Mexico’s Book Chamber Files Lawsuit in Textbook Dispute

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CANIEM’s lawsuit, filed in Mexico City, seeks an injunction against the López Obrador government’s takeover of textbook publishing.

Walking home from school in Vallodolid, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Kertu EE

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Mexico’s CANIEM Sues for an Injunction
Our readers will remember the textbook publishing crisis in Mexico outlined in our coverage last month, as new schoolbooks written by the Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration have been distributed to schoolchildren, triggering a storm of protest.

Today (October 9), the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM)—the National Chamber of the Mexican Publishing Industry—has issued a warning about “the risks to the freedom of publishing” with “the agreement that abolishes the regulations for the development of textbooks for secondary schools.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, our earlier story referenced extensively reported misgivings about the quality and emphases found in the newly created content.

Related article: In Mexico, Government Textbooks Spur Nationwide Criticism. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Max Rastello

Now, the more than 220 publishing and related companies that make up the membership of CANIEM—the publishing leadership of a country with at least 125.9 million Spanish speakers—are reminding the Mexican market and government that the Mexican market’s publishers have successfully engaged in more than a generation of operation in the educational space, working, by law, since the late 1990s with students, teachers, and the complete value chain that makes up the nation’s educational system.

The cancellation of that 25-year program is the target of the suit. As announced today in its statement, the CANIEM has turned to the federal courts to ask for an injunction that would put the brakes on “the acts of the authorities of the ministry of public education, which arbitrarily and contrary to the constitution and the general election law, prevented publishers from continuing to participate in the production of free textbooks” for the secondary school levels “to the detriment of millions of Mexican students and teachers.”

News reports refer to the court action’s intent by CANIEM as an effort to defend publishers against “the exclusion of the Mexican publishing industry” in the government’s current “free textbooks” program; the cancellation of the 25-year relationship that created textbooks in the past; and a loss of “autonomy for teachers” in the newly established government content approach.

The suit has been filed with the 17th administrative judge in Mexico City.

The CANIEM Argument

This is an amparo claim, a request for protection, that arrives with what’s reported as unanimous agreement of the CANIEM board of directors working with the chamber’s legal counsel. CANIEM’s argument points to agreements published on August 15, the chamber’s media messaging says. Those agreements as announced by the secretary of public education, “cancel the guidelines for the selection, acquisition, and distribution of free textbooks for the secondary level.”

“All these publishing houses work in Mexico … to defend freedom of expression and publication, promote copyright, and encourage reading to promote the realization of the individual and the national community.”CANIEM statement

The cancellation of guidelines that defined the selection, acquisition, and distribution of free textbooks had been put into place as early as March 2021, CANIEM’s statement says, signed at that time by then-secretary of education Delfina Gómez Álvarez.

Prior to that action, the CANIEM’s statement has it, “The authority approved the publishers’ book proposals in a transparent manner and with technical-pedagogical criteria, in accordance with the program and the guidelines published by the secretariat itself.” Teachers were then allowed to “freely select suitable textbooks according to their classroom experience and the diversity of conditions in the [their regions of the] country” and those textbooks were bought for the students by government subsidy at agreed rates.

“In the end,” the CANIEM writes, “dozens of publishing houses” were supplying the educational system’s teachers and students.

Now, what the government’s cancellation of that decades-long program means, the CANIEM says, “is that publishing houses interested in proposing content for students at the secondary level will no longer be able to prepare projects to be submitted to the secretary of public education for approval.”

Instead, as critics put it, the government has itself produced a smaller array of content that the new program’s opponents say are of woefully and obviously inadequate quality at best, and at worst a key channel of administration dogma—an effort to shape the students’ thinking on ideological and political terms.

The 1997 Protocol, Now Cancelled

Under the program set up in 1997, the CANIEM’s position has it, “books reviewed and approved by the secretary of public education were made known to teachers through the CONALITEG platform, so that teachers themselves could select the books they considered most appropriate for their classes. This recognition of plurality served the greater achievement of the purposes of education.”

“Under Mexico’s 25-year program, publishers “competed in price and quality … addressing the contents established by the secretary of public education, guaranteeing the free availability of such educational materials, their quality, and diversity.”CANIEM statement

The cancellation of that program, the chamber says, means that today, there’s only one textbook for each educational field or subject. Educators have no choice of content for their classes and effectively no collaboratively created educational materials developed through publishers working with educators.

The publishers of the chamber assert that they now are cut out of the “right to participate in the education of students “in a pluralistic process that remained successful for 25 years and ensured competition and the procurement of the best educational materials.”

They also point to “thousands of specialists” who they say are now “prevented from collaborating with the educational community to continue promoting the development of education in Mexico.

“But above all,” they write, this new development affects Mexican children and teachers: “Their learning possibilities will be diminished by the existence of a single book, instead of the wide diversity to which they had access before.”

Related article: In Brazilian Educational Publishing: A Crisis Averted. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

The content-creation program established a quarter-century ago, the CANIEM maintains in its court action, “determined clear processes in the elaboration, selection, and distribution of textbooks between the ministry of public education, teachers, and individuals, which provided a guarantee of the quality and fairness of these educational materials at the secondary level.

“This implied a great advance at the educational level,” the publishers’ chamber asserts, “since, while guaranteeing the rights of publishers to actively participate in the country’s public affairs, they also competed in price and quality to make available to educators and students bibliographic material of the highest quality and best prices, addressing the contents established by the secretary of public education, guaranteeing the free availability of such educational materials, their quality, and diversity.”

And to the political question that many critics have said underlies the cancellation of the established process, the CANIEM writes, “This collaboration between CANIEM’s members and the educational authorities made it possible to promote a plurality of ideas and access to diverse information for students, in line with the right to freedom of expression.”

IPA: ‘The Lifeblood of Local Publishing’

CANIEM is seeking protection of the federal courts for the previously established program with which the publishing industry for 25 years “has been able to offer a diversity of books for high school. They want it “back in force for the benefit of education in the country.”

Related article: IPA Alert: Dominican Republic Is Nationalizing Textbooks. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Paul McKinnon

You’ll recall that another recent court action of this kind provided remedy to the state of São Paulo in a case of a state government in Brazil attempting to leave the national school-content program. While that event took place in another sovereign market of Latin America, the stories are eerily similar. And at the end of last month, the Geneva-based International Publishers Association (IPA) issued a statement of “extreme concern” about reports that the Dominican Republic’s ministry of education “will be nationalizing textbook production, thereby eliminating choice for teachers from a range of educational resources” normally produced by the island-nation’s publishers.

Now with three disparate Latin American nations encountering efforts by their governments to take control of textbooks, the IPA secretary-general José Borghino has said, “High-quality educational resources can’t be improvised, they take years of investment to produce, test, and verify.

José Borghino

“Educational publishers are the lifeblood of local publishing in many places around the world. Undermining them can undermine the whole publishing landscape of a country.”

And CANIEM defines its standing for its court filing, writing, that the publishing houses it represents are “Mexican companies, legally incorporated in our country, regardless of where their headquarters are located. All these publishing houses work in Mexico, for Mexico, and employ thousands of Mexicans, with the commitment and responsibility to defend freedom of expression and publication, promote copyright, and encourage reading to promote the realization of the individual and the national community.”

In just the sector of the industry involved in the secondary school textbook program, the CANIEM reports, participating companies generate employment for more than 6,000 specialists “including authors, editors, researchers, illustrators, iconographers, photographers, proofreaders, and designers.”

“The Mexican publishing industry is recognized nationally and internationally for its pedagogical and scientific rigor,” the chamber states, “as well as for the constant updating of content and the high graphic quality of its products.”

Industry trade visitors and exhibitors to the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse next week (October 18 to 22) will find the CANIEM on the international exhibition floor in Hall 5.0, stand B132.

Schoolgirls in Guanajuato, central Mexico. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Maria SaMu

See also: Buchmesse’s 75th Year: ‘Frankfurt Academic’ Programming for more on educational and academic publishing issues at Frankfurt Book Fair.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Mexican market is here, more on educational publishing is here, and more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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