In Panama, journalists who criticise government policies or cover corruption-related issues, especially international financial scandals, are frequently targeted for legal action. Self-censorship is growing, as is the importance of government advertising contracts for online media, which limits their independence.
Historically, the major Panamanian media have been owned by members of the country’s economic elite. Given its strategic position between North and South America, Panama is a major information centre for the region. The main newspapers – La Prensa, Panamá América, Crítica, Crítica Libre, La Crónica – and television networks TM and TVN, are concentrated in Panama City, the capital.
Laurentino Cortizo Cohen of the centre-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) was elected president in 2019 on a platform of fighting poverty, reducing inequality, and overhauling the social protection system. Relations between politicians and the media have worsened, leading to self-censorship by journalists fearing lawsuits.
Panamanian laws offer little protection to journalists. Defamation suits are brought against journalists with a great deal of frequency and often result in financial penalties, posing a major obstacle to press freedom. Several legal actions are underway to get courts to order the confiscation of journalists’ assets and salaries to cover damages awarded to politicians in defamation suits.
The Panamanian economy is open, diversified, dollar-driven and highly competitive by regional standards. The government tries to use the allocation of advertising contracts to influence what the media report. The traditional media have cut staff due to economic problems, while the survival of most new online media depends on government advertising revenue.
Panamanian journalists work in a relatively safe and protected environment. Physical attacks on reporters are very rare. The main threat comes from the legal system.