Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Panama is notable for its harsh legal environment for journalists. But in July, President Martin Torrijos ratified the repeal of the country's "gag laws," enacted under military rule more than 30 years ago, which included harsh penalties for criminal defamation. The desacato (disrespect) provisions in the criminal and administrative codes, protecting most government authorities from criticism, were struck down. President Torrijos approved the reform when, on May 16, Panama's Legislative Assembly unanimously passed Law No. 73, which prohibits prosecution for contempt and sets out provisions governing the right to clarification and reply. The measure also repealed Law No. 11, passed in 1978, which contained provisions concerning the news media and publication of printed matter, and Law No. 67 (of that same year), which regulated the practice of journalism.
Although the legal reforms promoted more freedom, there is still concern about other provisions, Articles 307 and 308 of the criminal code, which contain two insult laws with similar language to the desacato laws. In July, a court ordered the confiscation of property and salary of La Prensa reporter Jean Marcel Chery at a value of $18,753, in payment for libel damages to Supreme Court judge Winston Spadafora. Chery had written that a Supreme Court decision canceled Spadafora's $2 million debt to a government canal agency known as the Interoceanic Regional Authority. In another case, Spadafora filed a civil lawsuit that sought $2 million in damages from Editora El Panama America, publisher of the daily El Panama America, for a 2001 story that allegedly "insulted" him when he was minister of government and justice. The suit also named the story's authors, Gustavo Aparicio and Chery, who was reporting for El Panama America at the time. Aparicio and Chery were initially sentenced to a year in prison in 2004, but in August of that year, outgoing president Mireya Moscoso pardoned them. Because of the poor legal environment, journalists often practice self-censorship.
Independent media are very active in Panama and express diverse views. Media often reflect the polarized political scene, with different outlets openly supporting various factions. All of Panama's media outlets are privately owned with the exception of one state-owned television network. The law prohibits cross-ownership, but there is considerable concentration of media ownership by relatives and associates of former president Ernesto Perez Balladares, whose party President Torrijos now leads. A bill to standardize government advertising and reduce official abuse of the practice was under consideration, but no major change has occurred. Poor salaries encourage corruption among some journalists. There are no government restrictions on the internet, accessed in 2005 by nearly 10 percent of the population.