Press freedom underwent some worrisome incidents during this period.
Panama’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that opens the possibility of the creation of a new court, named Fifth Tribunal or Constitutional Guarantees Tribunal. The National Assembly has sought to bring this court into being, but so far has failed to do so. The bill for a Law on Regulation seeks to limit the exercise of a free press, as its vague wording could give rise to an interpretation that impedes free access to information about corrupt acts or mismanagement by the government of the day and also would provide for power to restrict access to websites and social media.
The National Dialogue for Freedom of Expression that was convened by the federal government, with Panama’s Catholic Church as mediator, failed to come about.
On November 6, as he was heading home, Darío Fernández Jaén, a teacher, lawyer, politician, journalist and radio commentator, was killed. To date there is nothing to indicate that his death had anything to do with his work as a journalist, however the Attorney General’s Office and the Justice Administration have not provided any results of the investigation.
On December 27 the founding president of the newspaper La Prensa, Roberto Eisenmann Jr., reported having been the victim of persecution by the government, due to his criticisms in op-ed pieces. What is at issue is a tax regime set up against businesses in which he is a shareholder. At a press conference the head of the General Revenue Department said that there is no kind of persecution, although he did say he could not go deeper into the issue because the law forbids that.
Certain officials are maintaining a hostile and confrontational attitude towards the news media in general. On January 2, during the opening of a legislative session of the National Assembly, in giving his report to the nation, Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli said that the media “only like bad news” and “the only thing that makes them happy is what is bad.” He also accused “the owners of some news media … to have used these to blackmail and scare presidents and ministers.”
There continue to be legal proceedings taken against journalists for reporting, publishing or disseminating information concerning possible wrongdoing or alleged corruption. The most prominent case is that of journalists Siria Miranda, Kelineth Pérez and Eduardo Lim Yueng of National Television-Channel 2, who are facing trial on a libel charge for the broadcast (in 2009) of a news report that showed images of a security camera in which a National Police officer was seen to be engaged in a suspicious act.
In February, because of persecution against the newspaper El Universo on the part of the government of Ecuador, the government of Panama granted exile to journalist Carlos Perez Barriga, stating that it was doing so on “based on information available about his situation in which he has reasonable fear for his personal safety, and in accordance with International Law.”
The Foundation Journalists’ Forum and the National Guild of Journalists denounced the fact that the president of the Republic, in a press conference, harassed reporter Hugo Enrique Famania, who was asking questions about ties of this government to a scandal that had recently broken out in the country. The Foundation organized a campaign in favor of the journalist.