Melitón Arrocha proposes Internet censorship

A would-be new press gag law, but actually in concept a very old proposal to shield corruption.

Online censorship proposed — again

by Eric Jackson
                         We must do something about the Internet.

It’s back. This time, the rabiblancos, politicians and crooks want the “right to be forgotten.” As in Proposed Law 11, which would be a new press gag law. Any natural or juridical person, public officials and political parties not excepted, could complain. There would be no right to a day in court, only a summary finding based on a complaint to the National Public Services Authority (ASEP). No need to claim that the item sought to be erased is false — “imprecise” or “not updated” would suffice, and no proofs would be required. The authority could summarily fine a small website $10,000, that is, shut it down in most cases.

Does The Panama News publish an analysis or opinion piece that states that the Panameñista Party’s founder was a friend of Adolf Hitler’s who stripped Panamanians of Asian, non-Hispanic West Indian and Middle Eastern ancestry of their citizenship? It’s absolutely true but the president’s political party could say that because such an utterance did not contain the party line denying all of that, a website that publishes such a thing could be forced out of business. Does The Panama News publish an article that notes that the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) was founded by a dictatorship that killed or disappeared dozens of its opponents? That’s also true, but the party could shut down this website over it. Does the La Prensa investigative team uncover a bribery and kickback scheme? An anonymously owned company that was absolutely involved in such a thing could move to get the story summarily erased from the Internet.

The law proposes extraterritorial effect, which would be enforced by blocking access from Panama to certain search engines, databases or websites. Like, for example, that bastion of online history and bane of fraud artists, The Wayback Machine Internet Archive .

Introduced nearly four years to the day after Ricardo Martinelli went before an international audience and pleaded for global legislation to erase the criminal record that he was then compiling from the Internet, Panameñista legislator Melitón Arrocha is up to the same thing. The legislators might pass it, but probably won’t. The president might sign it, but his wife is a journalist by trade and he probably won’t. If it is passed and signed, it might be upheld by Panamanian courts — in the past those sorts of questions have sometimes been decided on the basis of bribery, partisan passions or political influence rather than on law — but by treaty any decision would be subject to an appeal to the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which would be unlikely to uphold such a law.

One never knows what the politicians and courts might do here, though, and press organizations are not taking any chances. A joint communique by two corporate press organizations, the Forum de Periodistas and the Consejo Nacional de Periodismo, hits three main points. First, they note the proposal’s vague provision that allow a wide range of censorship without any judicial recourse. Next, point out the law’s purported extraterritorial reach which, among other things, would purport to erase certain infamous facts about Panama from the global record. Finally, they cite the internationally recognized right of a people to their history, their collective memory.


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