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W. C. Fields and the Frank Zappa-tistas

5 February 2009

W.C. Fields, when asked on his deathbed why he was reading the Bible, supposedly said, “I’m looking for a loophole.”  Even in real life Fields was always a schemer, looking for a loophole.  It’s somewhat fitting that during his last illness, he finally broke down and married his Mexican-American girlfriend.  After all, having made a career playing characters who bungled badly when looking for a loophole, and Mexicans find something amusing — or at least endearing — about slightly disreputable schemers.  He might even have made a decent Mexican politician.

wc-fieldsIn light of  the protests that followed the 2006 Presidential elections, one price the Calderon Administration has had to pay for it’s  grudgingly accepted legitimacy has been a series of electoral reforms.  As part of the reform package, political parties are given free and equal television advertising access on the commercial networks and outlawing all paid political ads on the airwaves.

The networks, which had profited handsomely from political advertising — and which tilted towards PAN a little too obviously to be ignored by the other seven national parties — did everything in their power to thwart the reforms.  Still, they passed.  And — with state elections in Baja California Sur and Quintina Roo this week (yesterday, in fact), and upcoming state and municipal elections this year in Nayarit, Hidalgo, Guerrero and Coahuila, the networks looked for a last minute loophole, as described in an editorial (El escándalo de los spots) published Monday in the Culiacán El Debate (my translation).

“Politics is the entertainment branch of industry”

Frank Zappa

You know the rules of how the electoral game is played in the electronic media have changed, but last Sunday’s constant interruption of the football games, and even the Super Bowl, with political ads infuriated the fans.

frankzappaBy intent or design, the scandal undid any good the political advertising might have done. On the contrary, when people seek someone to blame, they look to the Federal Elections Insititute (IFE, for its initials in Spanish), Congress, and the political parties.

The Senate immediately blamed the television networks, and reminded them of their obligation to companies television transmitters and they remembered to them that they have obligation to transmit political programming during the “Triple A” period (prime time) and not at midnight when no one is watching.

The source of the conflict between the broadcasters and IFE lies with reforms to the Electoral Law, which require television and radio broadcasters, in return for their license, to contribute time to the government for political campaign broadcasts. Print media, as well as the Internet, and media like YouTube or Facebook are not bound by this requirement

Looking for a solution the problem, the Electoral Federal Institute held an emergency meeting yesterday. In Culiacán the leaders of the several political parties agreed yesterday that – as happened with the sports broadcast interruptions – the spots did more harm than good to their candidates.

The extremists among them believe that Televisa and Televisión Azteca purposely set out to avenge themselves against Congress, IFE and the political parties, for the loss of millions in income that they received for political advertising in previous elections.

Whatever one believes, the most important thing at this time is not to assess blame, but to find a solution that provides for equitable distribution of these campaign spots, not in a block, as was done last Sunday, inflaming the viewers.

Above all, the political establishment and the television networks must end the confrontation, which only creates division and rancor among Mexicans, and look for a consensus solution that ends the scandal generated by the spots.

The law is not to be played with, and the mass media, IFE, and the politicians need to look at the ultimate end of the policy: a deeper, more vigorous Mexican democracy.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rip Rense permalink
    5 November 2012 6:52 pm

    Fields never married his mistress, Carlotta Monti, though he provided generously for her in life, and in his will.


  1. Mexico’s Murdoch « The Mex Files
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