Jackson, What to do about a state-acquired media asset?

Critica Tweet
From La Critica’s Twitter feed, a forwarded thing.
It’s not like EPASA isn’t already crudely partisan.

EPASA, a degraded but valuable public asset

By Eric Jackson

Olimpo Sáez, witing in an op-ed published in El Siglo today, gets into the matter of what should happen to the EPASA publishing house in the wake of criminal convictions in the New Business case that establish that it was stolen property. He raises good questions and suggests reasonable answers.

Mr. Sáez and I have different politics – he’s a liberal and I’m a democratic socialist. I could review his life as a political activist and find nits and arguments to pick. He could do the same with respect to me. Would the Pope take such an argument as proof positive that neither of us qualify for sainthood? Perhaps it’s a good thing that neither of us are running for that. He takes out his liberalism within the context of MOLIRENA – the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement – which traces winding roots back to the Colombian-era Liberals of Belisario Porras et al. I take out my democratic socialism wearing my Panamanian citizen and voter hat as an independent, and as a US citizen and voter as a Democrat – one who, once upon a time, got my hippie head shaven by Doug Harvey’s boys, the deputies of a Democrtatic Washtenaw County, Michigan sheriff. Long and complicated story, for each individual and each party.

Notwithstanding all of that, and notwithstanding that he serves as a diplomat in a PRD administration that’s backing whom I consider a ridiculous man as its preferred successor, I consider Olimpo Sáez one of the good guys in Panamanian politics. Regardless of what he might think of me.

(Panamanian politics has this way of bad governments using good people, and of the best of those walking away after their public service with their heads rightfully held high. So let me not play guilt by association games about a MOLIRENA man serving in a coalition government with the PRD, nor about the most prominent elected official in his party being the religious rightist Corina Cano. Take Sáez for who he is, and what he writes on its merits.)

Back to the opinion column in question. Sáez suggests that now that Judge Marquínez has declared that the shares of EPASA are government property by virtue of being purchased with stolen government funds, and if the appeals to overturn that verdict come and go with the ruling intact, the company should be turned over to the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Culture and its excellent printing plant be used to:

  1. Print, for free distribution to students, all of the Panamanian public schools’ primary and secondary level textbooks; and
  2. Become a publishing house for Panamanian writers.

Both very good ideas, I think.

Meanwhile, national and international journalists’ organizations are expressing concern about the fate of of the three newspapers that EPSA publishes, El Panama America, La Critica and Dia a Dia. Not only are they concerned about the jobs of their colleagues, but also the possibility of this government, or whatever, taking private and independent media and turning them into crude propaganda organs for the party in power.

In the halls of power in Washington, there is such an aversion to public-owned media that it’s hard for a reporter working for one of them to get press credentials to cover Congress, the White House or other federal institutions. However, the United Kingdom’s BBC, Canada’s CBC, France’s AFP, the Qatari Al Jazeera, the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States and the Panamanian Sistema Estatal de Radio y Televisión all report the news, are all state-owned or state-backed, have all faced challenges their independence and objectivity, and have all managed to keep reasonably clean reputations intact.

Yes, we hear the Martinelista screams. And when they threw foreign reporters out of Panama, blocked cellular communications during troubles in Chiriqui, denied press access to public records over partisan criteria and fired journalists and discontinued columns ver partisan criteria when Martinelli took over EPASA they denied any impropriety. It was not considered by those in the Martinelli orbit to be any violation of press freedom when an armed guard threatened me, as I was standing on a public sidewalk trying to get a photo of a Maserati seized from a Colombian racketeer parked in the ephemeral Martineli goon acting attorney general of that moment. Any and all questions about the hacking of just about all non-Martinelli online Panamanian news media – including The Panama News – in the days leading up to and just after the 2014 elections were treated as rude paranoia unworthy of investigation. These people should not be heard to complain about freedom of the press now.

But there is a real concern and the likes of Gaby Carrizo and Benicio Robinson are not to be trusted to properly address it.

Does the sensationalist necro-porn tabloid La Critica serve any important public function? Even if it increased the amount of nudity and published recipes with cannibalism stories? But perhaps if turned over to a collection of more serious and ethical journalists it could turn into something that actually enhances Panamanian culture. If Dia a Dia or El Panama America were turned over to students at our universities’ journalism departments it would likely be a vehicle for an across-the-board national improvement of the craft.

And then, if we want to encourage children to read, how about publishing some Panamanian comic books aimed at kids, not to be assigned at school but to be readily available for kids to get in the habit of reading for fun.

A national debate, in the legislature and otherwise, about what to do with this publishing business? It would probably get crude and ugly, and at those moments serve inform the public about who and what some of our elected officials really are.

EPASA should neither be sold at auction nor thrown away. It’s too valuable of a public asset.


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