Court stays libel case against president of Panamanian journalism union

A court temporarily stayed a libel and slander case against Grisel Bethancourt, the president of Panama's National Journalism Guild (CONAPE), over an article with judicial information about the slaying of a girl, TVN News reported.

Judge Marlene Morais temporarily dismissed the case for lack of evidence and for absence of malicious intent, according to Hora Cero, a Panamanian digital newspaper. The journalist, who works for the newspaper chain El Panamá América (EPASA), was sued by the slain girls’ father, Elías Mendoza, over an article about the case. The article was published in the newspaper, Crítica, and was based on information from the Second Court of Justice.

Bethancourt believes the court’s decision has set a good precedent, but she also asked that her journalist colleagues with similar cases pending in Panamanian courts not be left behind.

According to a February report by CONAPE, in 2010, 119 libel and slander cases were filed in Panama, most of them directed at journalists and media outlets. The newspaper, La Prensa, has been hit the hardest, with 29 open cases, followed by El Siglo, with 16, Critica, with 15 and Panamá América with 12. Sixty four percent of the lawsuits were filed by private individuals and the rest by public officials.

Panamanian journalists have repeatedly called for the decriminalization of libel and slander in the penal code.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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