New laws threaten media freedoms in Panama
As reported on the Monitor, a new law to regulate the media (Draft Law Nº 422) has already been approved by the National Assembly, however, it has still not become law. The bill assigns responsibility for penalising media organisations that publish discriminatory or derogatory content against women to the civil court. The National Council of Journalists, the Journalists' Forum and the Panamanian Broadcasting Association expressed deep concern over the bill as it gives the government additional power "to regulate the media, its editorial content and therefore freedom of expression."
On 15 February 2017, member of congress, Noriel Salerno, presented a new draft law requiring private media outlets to publish one educational, cultural or electoral message for every five advertisements. The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and the former Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organisation of American States, Catalina Botero, expressed concern over the draft law. IAPA President Matt Sanders stated:
"Although [the law] could have good intentions, it entails serious violations when the State interferes with private activities and the editorial criteria of the media". (Translated from Spanish)
With the aim of getting the views of civil society on policy and fostering greater communication with the government, the Ombudsman has initiated a series of national consultations with civic actors. Thus far, the consultations have been conducted in two of the ten provinces in the country: Coclé and Darien.
Anti-government protests have taken place in Panama City over allegations of corruption and bribery connected to the Odebrecht scandal. The Odebrecht construction company allegedly contributed to President Juan Carlos Varela's electoral campaign. Thousands gathered in February, calling on the authorities to investigate the scandal. There were no reports of violence or clashes with the authorities.