Panama’s president asks church to moderate dialogue on freedom of expression

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli is organizing a national dialogue on freedom of expression, to be held on Saturday, May 14, 2011, in response to allegations of threats and abuse perpetrated by government officials against journalists, EFE reports.

The president has asked Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa to moderate the talks, the AFP adds.

Over the last few months, the government has been involved in several confrontations with the press, including threats against a reporter who criticized the government, the expulsion of two Spanish media workers for their role in an environmental protest, and a series of videos linked to the government that attack journalists who published unflattering WikiLeaks cables.

Opposition leader Samuel Lewis Navarro said that the call for dialogue is a positive sign, as long as the president does not use it to “deflect attention from the scandals and problems in his government or to silence critical voices,” Crítica reports.

According to PAdigital, the president of the National Journalism Guild, Grisel Bethancourt, said the union is open to any dialogue that seeks to strengthen the democratic process, but stressed that freedom of expression is a non-negotiable right.

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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.