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Mexico’s Murdoch

22 July 2011

I have been wondering if there might be a Mexican connection to the Murdoch scandal.  Although the scandal started with something relatively normal in Mexican scandals — intercepting private communications — the “real” scandal has been, and always way, the method and means by which a powerful corporation manages to control access to public information, and the ties that corporation has to governments.

Mexican PRINT media (including print on-line, the source of information I generally rely upon) is less affected in some ways.  While the ethics of news gathering may not adhere to the standards of the wealthy countries, and we have more than our share of crappy reportage, one advantage of our print media is that it is not consolidated like it is in the major English-speaking countries.  Had Murdoch’s properties not included papers of much better repute (not to mention other media outlets) beyond the News of the World, there would have been a lot of hand-writing over ethics and journalistic responsibility, but nothing like the international scandal that has blossomed.  Or, if Murdoch’s properties were not so overtly politicized.

Mexican print media, while openly partisan, are not concentrated in any particular hands.  While there are a few U.S. style corporate papers, like Universal and Reforma, their ownership style is more like the major U.S. independents, the New York Times, for example.  That is, while they generate content for many of the country’s smaller publications (Noroeste, my local daily, for example, gets most of its national and international news and opinion from El Universal) and may have some local editions, they are partisan in the same way that the New York Times is partisan.  However, we have nothing similar to media chains like Gannett or Knight-Ridder except on a very small scale.  And, in the print media world, nothing remotely like Murdoch’s News Corp.

Despite the claims of “objectivity”, the perception of the object depends on the subject, which, in the case of the New York Times, or Reforma or El Universal, are the perceptions of those who manage and own large companies.  That is, while not partisan in the way of political parties, the decision makers at the  New York Times or Reforma aren’t all that different than the decision makers at Wal Mart or McDonalds or Vokswagen.  Reforma is more conservative than its competitors, but then, it’s a Monterrey based business, and not a Mexico City based one.  But, then again, the New York Times, being based in New York, is going to see the world slightly differently than Arkansas-based Wal Mart.

However, Mexican print media is political — and often in the sense of party bias.  I don’t see that as a weakness for the media as a whole.  I think Mexicans who want to be informed are better informed, and have a better understanding of complex issues (which is what one wants in a democratic society) when one is able to assess the issue as seen by its varied partisans.  What Jornada writes about a given event, and what Cronica de Hoy say about it might be complete opposites, but if one has a fairly complete understanding of the rationale behind whatever the event means, by synthisyzing the two.  And, maybe throwing in a few of the “betweens” like Milenio (more lefty) or Excelsior (more righty).

Where we do have concentration, and “Murdochian” attempts to control the political agenda is in television.  Although foreigners pay more attention to, and seem to find, Carlos Slim the puppet-master of Mexican politics, very few pay attention to Emilio Azcarraga Jean and Televisa.

While both Slim and the Azcarraga clan are in the communications biz, Slim’s enormous wealth comes from information delivery, not information control.  Azcarraga controls Televisa, which is the primary information source in this county (as everyone knows, Mexican homes are more likely to own a television than a refrigerator).  While there is a second network (Azteca) and a few independent channels, Televisa, as the former state television monopoly, and has a tremendous advantage over any possible competitor.

Slim is sometimes seen as the “George Soros of Mexico” (which is a description I saw in a U.S. website comment, and a pretty good one — Slim seeming to recognize that cultural and political change is in his own interests, and not being shy about using his wealth to foment change, as in his open support for López Obrador in 2006, and various leftists since).  As with Murdoch’s Fox News, which is always “exposing” social change as the work of Soros,  Azcarraga’s Televisa insinuates that Slim is a social menace to the status quo (which I hope he is).

Televisa was responsible for “Initiativa Mexicana” project, which led to self-imposed press restrictions that favor the present administration, and were signed off on by the major print media (although several on the left, including Jornada and Proceso refused) … possibly out of fear of reprisals, not by the government, but by Televisa.

The “niña Paulette” incident (the botched investigation into the death of a handicapped child in the State of Mexico) was used to attack the network’s favored politician, Enrique Peña Nieto, then the governor of that state.  Peña Nieto, who then bought massive advertising time on Televisa, was restored to good graces, and you won’t hear a word against him on their news programs.  Although, legally he had the right to purchase air time, Televisa tried to prevent Andres Manuel López Obrador from buying time for his “alternative presidency” although he was finally able to purchase time in a useless 11 PM on Tuesday slot.  When the Elections Commission ruled that television stations had to carry political ads (which are government paid) for all parties without discrimination — something Televisa saw as affecting their ad revenue stream — the network responded by running all the ads for a regional election back to back during a soccer game, not to annoy soccer fans, but to turn the audience against unpaid political advertising.  They play hardball.

And, when it comes to that, no surprise, you find not just a Mexican Murdoch, but Murdoch (and News Corp.) himself in the fray:

From an article by Jenaro Villamil in (the lefty, independent) Proceso (my translation):

[The Mexican business publication] Expansión, in its special issue of December 20, 2010, branded Emilio Azcarraga Jean “the Mexican Rupert Murdoch.” Expansión quotes consultant Xepus Ginebra of theMedia Planning Group who said: “Both (News Corporation and Televisa) are businesses controlled by a single individual, focused on generating content for multi-platform distribution, and with a strong political influence in the countries where they operate, and distributed multi-platform, with a strong political influence in countries where they operate and where they are willing to invest heavily.”

"...what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game."

The presence of the [Rupert Murdoch] in Televisa began with negotions… to launch a platform known as DHT (satellite TV) which would… effectively displace cable television.

…[Murdoch’s] success in Europe would be replicated in Latin America. Murdoch associated with … Televisa…the Brazilian consortium O Globo and Liberty Media to create Sky Latin America.

Since late 2008, especially between 2009 and 2011, Sky faced competition from Dish Group…

Televisa pressured regulators, such as the Federal Communications and Competition commission, and the Secretariat of Communications and Transport, to block expansion of Grupo Dish and block consent for MVS [the Dish delivery system] to act as a provider of internet Broadband services in 2011, simultaneously waging an advertising and commercial war against Carlos Slim’s Grupo Carso.

As Murdoch was doing in Britain, the Azcarraga-run consortium uses its enormous capacity for intelligence and political lobbying as well as putting pressure on its major advertising clients.

In 2006 Televisa came up with the Munich Project, headed by David Robillard, at that time the director of the private intelligence agency, Kroll Marketing, Televisa Vice President, Alejandro Quintero.

The Munich Project, as uncovered by Etcetera [a media trade magazine], had as its objective, the development of “offensive competitive intelligence.” In other words, spying:  not only on corporate accounts, but also digging into the personal history of its biggest advertisers executives.
Kroll said that to establish their research uses “intelligence techniques, field investigations, comprehensive review of public databases and private as well as consultation of confidential sources of information.”

Robillard denied the report published by Etcetera, but confirmed that Kroll has done work with Televisa to help “address the risks it faces”.

“At no time participated in obtaining private information,” he said in a letter on May 2, 2006.

And, of course, we believe that, just like we Murdoch when he tells us that there weren´t private eyes digging up information on “9-11 victims” in New York or celebrities and politicians in Britain. Right?

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