LANDSCAPING

Panama 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: THE MEDIA

Panama's media sector has a rich history and bright future, standing as somewhat of an exception in Central America in terms of its freedom.

Due to its prime location in Central America, Panama has long been influenced by US broadcasting, and today enjoys its status as a media hub and bastion of press independence.

Radio broadcasting began in 1922, followed by television in 1956. And in the early 1980s, the media scene became politicized with the founding of La Prensa in 1981, a newspaper that opposed the rule of dictators, which ended in 1989 with the overthrow of Manuel Noriega. Today, the media in Panama is described by Reporters Without Borders as “[standing] out as an exception in Central America, which is notoriously dangerous," while, “cases of assaults against journalists are extremely rare."

Asked for his opinion on the issue, Eduardo Antonio Quirós B., who heads up the La Estrella and El Siglo newspapers, commented that, “Today, Panama has strong and free institutions. Panama was a dictatorship from 1969 to 1989, and during that fight for freedom and democracy, the Panamanian people demonstrated their commitment to all forms of freedom, especially freedom of the press."

And the scene today is certainly dynamic, with over 100 radio stations and several TV networks that are mostly dominated by the private sector. The global move online has also not skipped Panama, with the younger generation driving the charge. Growth of internet penetration has been impressive, with over 1.5 million users currently, meaning almost 50% penetration, compared to just 45,000 users in 2000. “Part of our readership use social media," said Hitler Cigarruista, Director of Capital Financiero, Panama's largest financial newspaper. “This is a new game; these people want to know what is happening as soon as possible," he continued. But in an exclamation that has been made around the world, print is far from dead, as Eduardo Antonio Quirós B. testified; “I think people still like to pay money to sit down and hold a newspaper in their hands and finger through those pages while drinking their coffee." But he continued, “That being said, we want to incorporate all the new media and news delivering technologies that are available."

La Estrella and El Siglo, which target the middle to upper class and middle class downward, respectively, are joined in the market by a range of other papers, including La Critica Libre, a daily tabloid, the El Panama America daily, and also a brace of English-language sources, namely Newsroom Panama, an exclusively online offering, and The Panama News. The main television networks include Telemetro, RPC, Televisora Nacional (TVN), and FETV.

Whatever your political persuasion, media preference, or field of interest, Panama has proven it can deliver a wide variety of local content, and even some in English, to a country ever hungrier for up-to-date content, especially the variety found online. With a rich history, the media is likely to continue shaping developments in Panama for years to come.