Hemispheric press group protests Panamá restriction

The Inter American Press Association calls a bill in Panama that seeks restore obligatory membership in a guild for journalists a retrograde action and “a backward step for press freedom and democracy in that country.”

The bill, introduced last week by Rubén Fría Ortega of the governing Partido Cambio Democrático, after setting a pay scale for journalists in its Article 6 declares that such benefits would apply only to those of Panamanian nationality and holding a journalist’s credential.

Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21, said that this was not the first time that “we have to raise our voice against discriminatory and anti-press freedom actions that had appeared to have remained in the past in Panama.” He was referring to earlier times in which the Inter American Press Association protested another legislative bill that in 2002 restored a press council, emulating the technical press board that had been abolished in December 1999, which said who may and may not work as a journalist. Marroquin is president of the Inter American Press Association.

Claudio Paolillo, co chairman of the association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly news magazine Búsqueda, recalled that the advisory opinion issued in 1985 by the Inter-American Human Rights Court established that obligatory membership in a journalists’ guild is incompatible with freedom of expression and press freedom, in that it restricts the right to work as a journalist merely to those who belong to a guild or are university graduates.

The two assocaition officers maintained that the new bill “is clearly a retrograde step that is not compatible with the philosophy of our profession, as well as ignoring the incredible changes that the new technologies have brought so that everyone, without distinction, can seek, receive and disseminate information.”

Several leaders in the Americas — presidents and legislators — have signed the Declaration of Chapultepec, by which they pledged to respect its Article 8, which declares, “The membership of journalists in guilds, their affiliation to professional and trade associations and the affiliation of the media with business groups must be strictly voluntary.”

This concept is also contained in the Principles of Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose Article 6 says, “Compulsory membership or the requirements of a university degree for the practice of journalism constitute unlawful restrictions of freedom of expression.”

The Inter American Press Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Consultantes Río Colorado S.A., the parent company of A.M. Costa Rica and A.M. Panamå, is a member of the Inter American Press Association.

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