Courtesy of my friend Jim, on Facebook, this Panamanian news story came to my attention today:
The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) asked on Tuesday that the government of president Ricardo Martinelli investigate smear campaigns against Panamanian journalists, which represent “a grave fissure in freedom of expression” and “corrode the credibility of the press” .
In recent weeks, several journalists, including Lina Vega Abad, editor of the Investigations Unit of the daily La Prensa, were subjected to insults and an anonymous smear campaign on YouTube, in a form resembling television advertisements. Vega Abad’s professional career and personal life were questioned, according to denunciations, in response to her reports on irregularities in the government [of Panama].
A publicity spot by the ruling Cambio Democrático party, shown on TV last weekend, questions the honorability of reporter Santiago Cumbrera, of the Investigative Unit of La Prensa, because of his investigations regarding the diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks, which compromise government functionaries.
IAPA president Gonzalo Marroquín, of the Guatamalan daily Siglo 21, said that “it is evident that the reporters are being smeared in an effort to damage their reputation and thus corrode their credibility before society; for this reason, it behooves the government, as guarantor of press freedom, to investigate the incidents and punish those responsible.”
In early April, Alvaro Alvarado, journalist and host of the morning news show Telemetro, on Channel 13, also denounced smear campaigns against him. La Prensa also reported that during 2010, other anonymous videos were used to discredit the then editor of the judicial unit of the daily, Mónica Palm.
The president of the Commission of Press Freedom and Information, Robert Rivard, of the US paper San Antonio Express-News, added that “if the anonymous defamatory messages are not taken into account, if they are not investigated, they help to create a climate of intolerance and intimidation that lessens the public’s capacity to receive information.”
In its recent quarterly report, the IAPA warned about the climate of confrontation in Panama between the government and the press, expressing that the government usually “blames the communications media over certain situations and facts which are of a public character.”
Why is this funny? Because this is happening in Panama, not Venezuela (which is the IAPA’s usual whipping-post when it comes to muzzling of the press). Because the IAPA, which should be called the IAPOA (it is a press owners’ association, after all, and not a journalists’ union) is prevailing on the right-wing, corrupt Martinelli government to essentially investigate itself in the smearings of journalists. And because the IAPOA is about as much a guardian of free expression as a fox is the guardian of a henhouse. And most of all, because the fox guarding the henhouse is asking the coyote to look into what happened to all the chickens.
PS: Somewhat germane to the subject, you may want to read mi amigo, Orwell’s Bastard, who has a spifftacular entry up tonight. If you wonder why corporate media get so little respect, the Barstid (who would know, because he works at a major Canadian paper; I won’t say which) has some clues for you. It’s certainly not a phenomenon limited to Panama, or Latin America. And neither is the nasty habit of right-wing governments trying to make diligent reporters’ work impossible. We have that problem up here, too.