Irresponsible Investigative Journalism Rampant in Panama
Friday, October 05 2007 @ 08:34 AM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
Free Speech vs. Defamation and Slander: I am an investigative reporter working in Panama as well, and I am currently in the middle of trying to unravel a real furball of accusations and counter-accusations among people with conflicting land claims against Rights of Possession property in Bocas del Toro. One guy files a complaint against a public official for being corrupt. That public official then files a criminal complaint against the other guy for slander. People on all sides accuse the other side of being evil, manipulative, corrupt, dirty, backstabbing, and ruthless. Yeesh....
How Do You Ethically Report On That? I have to listen to everyone on all sides, let them tell their story, and then write it in a fashion that allows the reader to make up his or her own mind. It is not my job as a reporter to skew, spin, or convince the reader of anything, or to try to make you believe what I believe. And that is the root of the issue with the Roger Gallo complaints against Eric Jackson. Eric Jackson likes to try to defend his "style" by painting himself as some kind of "freedom of speech" warrior. In my humble opinion as an investigative journalist who is working the same beat as Jackson, that's a cop-out. It seems to me Eric Jackson is little more than a bad (as in, not good) journalist who is not property investigating or writing the story. It's really that simple.
Bias Alert: Of course any reporter can become emotionally tied up in a particular issue. For example I think every regular reader of Panama-Guide knows how I feel about the Pedro Miguel Gonzalez case. But even in that series of reporting, out of a sense of editorial responsibility I alerted people to my bias early on to make sure the readers are aware of my feelings when they read my reporting. I, as a human being, can not remain cold and neutral with regards to that punk, so you can expect me to be less than 100% objective. It's the least I can do, and my transparency should allow the reader to go into a story fully aware of my bias as a reporter. Take this article, for instance...
Attacks from Day One: Eric Jackson tore into me the instant I launched Panama-Guide as a website because he was afraid of the competition. And over time it has become apparent that he had good cause to be concerned because I've been kicking his ass ever since. But that has not stopped him from improperly or incorrectly focusing his attention on me, and failing to recognize and address his own shortcomings as a writer and English language website editor. It's a whole lot easier to just blame me for all of this problems rather than taking responsibility for his own situation. Whatever. Maybe he will figure it out some day, or maybe not. I really don't care all that much. But if he continues to slander me then eventually I'll file a complaint against him as well.
I Bet He Yanks It Down: Okke Ornstein criminally slandered me on several occasions so I filed criminal complaints against him. As a direct result of those complaints he pulled down his trash website. People who have been victimized for years by these guys are now starting to realize that the only way to deal with these "serial slanderers" is to confront them head-on. OK, you might end up getting a little skunk on you, but in the end at least there is a chance of getting some peace and justice in the end. If as a victim you decide that it's "more trouble than it's worth" think again. What comes up when you do a Google search on your name or business in Panama? Is there a hit-piece from a serial slanderer who has no real complaint or evidence but rather just a half-baked bone to pick? Then you can bet the simple existence of that article is causing you more harm than you will ever be able to recognize or quantify.
Concentrated Return Fire: One of the quirks about the Panamanian justice system with regards to these kinds of criminal slander complaints is that if a guy like Eric Jackson has five or six or seven criminal complaints against him, then he will most likely be seen by the same criminal prosecutor and judges who have been specially trained to deal with these kinds of criminal complaints. There are two (and only two) prosecutors in the Public Ministry who are qualified to investigate and prosecute criminal complaints for slander and defamation. Irresponsible writers and reporters can effectively spread their wrath out against a wide audience of victims, but the complaints of their victims against the writers effectively become condensed to a fine point, thanks to the way the legal prosecution system is established. The trick seems to be banding together as victims to compel serial slanderers to be more responsible and contemplative in their reporting through legal action. Hence the essence of the Roger Gallo letter to Eric Jackson.
The One-Time Get Out Of Jail Free Card: Guys like this talk large, but then start to tremble when confronted with the reality of actually having to do some jail time for the crap they have been slinging for years. There is an allowance in the Panamanian criminal justice system which gives judges the ability to simply fine a first time offender in place of jail time. The sentence comes down as "you are hereby found guilty and sentenced to six months or 180 days in jail (days/fine.)" What that means in effect is that you can pay your $180 fine and go home. But now with a criminal conviction on your record you can no longer take advantage of the days/fine provisions of Panamanian criminal law. One of the requirements for the judge is that the accused standing before them can not have any prior convictions. In effect, six months in jail now turns into six months of real jail time, behind bars. At this point you can bet that all of the large and swaggering bullshit talk evaporates like just so much water on a hot sidewalk. All talk, with no real balls to back it up.
Nice To Meet You, Rex: Rex Freeman is the guy who already has a criminal complaint filed Eric Jackson for slander. The day after I posted a photo of myself and Rex Freeman on Panama-Guide, Okke Ornstein yanked down his website (also known as the Noriegaville online criminal evidence repository.) You can bet that all of the people who have been slandered by these guys over the years are now banding together to fight back and insist on responsible reporting. And, just a week after I got together with Rex Freeman, Roger Gallo sent the following email to Eric Jackson:
- Mr. Jackson,
- I would appreciate it if you removed all articles from your website that insinuate that I am somehow a crook or involved in Panzi schemes.
- I provide advertising. Nothing more. I am not involved with any clients, nor with any of the clients with whom you have inappropriately lumped me.
- I suggest that 72 hours is sufficient time to remove all articles from your website that have my name on them. I will no longer put up with inappropriate slandering of my name without resorting to legal recourse.
- There are a number of individuals and companies here in Panama who have been damaged by irresponsible internet reports who as a group have decided that they are no longer willing to put up with reports that are purely slander and intended to be nothing other than that.
- Your attention to this request is appreciated.
- Roger Gallo
Hey Eric - Ditto: Me too. Lump me in with the " individuals and companies here in Panama who have been damaged by irresponsible internet reports who as a group have decided that they are no longer willing to put up with reports that are purely slander and intended to be nothing other than that." Remove all slanderous references to my name from www.thepamananews.com or I'll sue you as well. Roger said it in a much nicer way, but the message is clear. I'm fed up. Maybe you should remove your efforts to rally others to contact or boycott my sponsors as well. I mean, I can sue you for your couch but I don't really want it. Just take the crap down and avoid the pain.
The Acts of the Criminal: I report on criminal activity in Panama all the time, and I don't have people jumping up and down with threats to sue me. The current series of reports I'm working on in Bocas del Toro is a perfect example. There are people on all sides who tell me "we just want justice to be done" and "we want the truth to get out." Ok, cool. My job is to listen to everyone and to tell the story from their particular point of view, and not take sides. It is particularly important, critical in fact, to not take one side or the other when there are conflicting claims against land rights and accusations of criminal activity and corruption of local officials. It is simply not the job of the reporter to make those accusations. That falls to prosecutors, judges, and other governmental entities to break the ties. And the real concern of the people I'm talking to up there is this - they want to know "is this guy going to be objective?" Yup. Count on it. I'll follow the story for years, and sooner or later the courts will make their decisions, and those decisions will be final, and then I will report on that. You see, it works for me either way.
A Snippet of a Rumor and Run Full Speed: The lazy, bullshit, half-baked way to work a story as a half-assed "in your face investigative journalist" is to just listen to one side of the argument, who is usually someone who is excited, upset, pissed off, and looking to use the media outlet as a means of gaining some kind of leverage or traction against the "other side." An irresponsible reporter then takes that one-half of the whole story and runs with it, adding even more weight to the accusations of the source because of the reporters views or beliefs coincide with those of the source. And, it turns into a snowball. Most of the time I've learned that people who are excited and complaining about something usually "forget" to mention some key piece of information that makes them look not quite as snow-white as they would like to make you believe. And, a fair and balanced examination of the "other side" reveals a lack of horns and a tail, as depicted by the vocal complainer.
Don't Shoot the Messenger: Because we need good messengers. The "bad guys" out there will fall on their own accord and it's usually not the humble news reporter who brings down the deck of cards. There are, of course, times when reporters can help to uncover and expose, but the acts of the criminal eventually bring down the criminal, not the words of the reporter. The journalist simply keeps digging up new bones, asking for interviews on all sides, and then watches as the guilty party eventually loses all credibility and digs their own grave. And the really cool part is - if done right, you don't have to get sued for doing your job. And the really (really) cool part is, if you get sued and you didn't actually do anything wrong, then it will get thrown out of court. But if you as a reporter were lazy, incomplete, or incompetent, then can and will be held responsible for your own professional irresponsibility. Dem's the rules of the game. Deal with it.
Jump On The Bandwagon: Been slandered lately? Did you print a copy of the story? It takes about an hour to wander down to the PTJ and file a complaint. If it's bullshit, you really don't have to take it anymore. In fact, I recommend that you don't take it at all. The tide has turned in favor of responsible journalism, and it's about damn time.
Copyright 2007 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. As usual go ahead and feel free to use whatever you want, as long as you credit the source. That is, of course, unless you intend to sue me, in which case screw you... (grin)