Inter American Press Association condemns trial against journalists in Panama

The decision by a judge to try a team of journalists from a Panamanian newspaper has been called “an alert for media that call out possible irregularities in public administration” by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in a press release.

The case is related to a complaint filed by Lourdes Castillo, current head of the Panama Canal Authority, against four journalists from La Estrella newspaper for alleged crimes against her honor, said the newspaper.  Between April and May of 2011, the paper published a series of reports on possible irregularities in contracts given by the state to Naves Supply S.A., of which Castillo is a shareholder.

The prosecutors that investigated the case had asked for a dismissal of the complaint on the grounds that only a living person, not a legal entity, can sue for crimes against honor, and the reports only mentioned the company – not names.

Claudio Paolillo, president of IAPA’s Freedom of the Press Commission, said that the judge’s decision was “incoherent” after the prosecutor’s office asked for the case to be dismissed.  “More than finding out if investigations into journalistic claims are beneficial to correct possible errors, the underlying intention is to pacify the press so that, due a fear of reprisals, it will perform a tepid and doctored journalism.  That is totally against the freedom of the press,” he added.

In its report on Panama, presented at its mid-year reunion last March, IAPA warned that the “level of confrontation” in the country between “important members of the government” and independent journalists carrying out investigations into corruption had not diminished.

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.