The press, radio, and, more recently, the television of Panama have a history of strong political partisanship and rather low standards of journalistic responsibility. The government has subsidized some news outlets and periodically censored others. During most of the Torrijos era, the press and radio were tightly controlled but, following the ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, a significant degree of press freedom was restored. It was at this time that the most significant opposition paper, La Prensa, was founded.
Throughout the 1980s, conflicts between the government and the opposition media, notably La Prensa, escalated. The government and the FDP blamed La Prensa and its publisher, Roberto Eisenmann Jr., for much of the negative publicity they received in the United States. The paper was attacked, its writers were harassed and, in 1986, Eisenmann fled to the United States, charging that his life had been threatened.
Events in 1987 increased the level of conflict between the government and the media. Strict censorship was instituted over all newspapers and radio and television news broadcasts. In response, three opposition papers suspended publication. Publication was resumed in late June, but in July the government closed La Prensa and the two other papers, as well as two radio stations. The English-language Panama Star and Herald, the nation's oldest newspaper, was forced out of business. The government pressured remaining stations and newspapers to engage in selfcensorship and attempted to crack down on foreign press coverage, expelling several correspondents. In October, President Delvalle sent to the legislature a proposed press law that would have made the publishing of "false, distorted, or inexact news" a crime for which individual journalists would be held responsible. Even the pro-government media attacked this proposal, which the legislature rejected. Although there were indications that the opposition media would be allowed to re-open in 1988, it seemed unlikely that government efforts to control news coverage would cease.
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