In a move to replace restrictive press laws that date to Panamas military dictatorship, representatives of news organizations helped draft a new bill that went before the Legislative Assembly, but the assembly took no action. Under current Panamanian law, the government can muzzle the press by exercising prior censorship. The Interior Ministry has the authority to impose sanctions on the media in the form of fines and closure of media outlets.
The bill under consideration includes provisions that guarantee freedom of the press and shield journalists from being forced to reveal their sources. Press organizations plan to lobby lawmakers to include the decriminalization of slander and libel as well. The Legislative Assembly is scheduled to review the bill again when it convenes in March 1997.
Aggressive press coverage, particularly by the daily La Prensa, of allegations that government officials had ties to drug traffickers raised the ire of President Ernesto Pérez Balladares, who unleashed verbal attacks on the national and foreign press. In June, Pérez Balladares accused journalists of waging a campaign of disinformation.
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