Panama | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2004

2004 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Freedom of expression in Panama has been gradually eroded for decades. However, attacks on and legal prosecutions against the press have increased considerably in the last few years. Although prison sentences are generally commuted into fines, public officials frequently invoke repressive press and desacato (insult) laws to silence criticism, restrict circulation of information, and create an environment of intimidation and self-censorship among journalists. Indeed, over half the media workforce have criminal libel or slander cases pending against them. Furthermore, with the judiciary subject to political manipulation and prosecutors' independence often compromised, Panamanian courts are not able to judge media cases independently. Although access-to-information legislation was passed in 2002, subsequent highly restrictive regulations rendered it worthless, and topics such as judicial corruption and government spending remain off limits. Although there is an abundance of independent and relatively diverse media, ownership of television and radio in particular is highly concentrated among former president Ernesto Perez Balladares and his friends and family. Direct economic barriers to establishing private media outlets are few, but the government exerts indirect control of the media through advertising distribution. Among other barriers to the independent media are government requirements that journalists and radio and television announcers must be licensed by the government and must hold a university degree in order to practice their profession.