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No mass debating in public, please!

2 May 2012

David Agren, who knows his way around Mexican politics better than anybody (and has the stomach to talk to the politicos) wrote on his facebook page last night

“Third World” are the words coming mind when thinking about Mexico’s TV networks

He was referring to the “fuck you” statement by TV Azteca’s CEO, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, to the Election Commission’s condemnation of his network’s decision to NOT run the scheduled presidential debate this coming Sunday, and instead show a futbol game.

I don’t see that as “third world” so much as First World… as in Fox News in the United States.  Salinas Pliego, although not related to Carlos Salinas de Gotari, certainly is closely tied to the PRI.

When the two national television networks were privatized, Salinas Pliego’s successful big was financed with 29 million U.S. dollars loaned by Carlos Salinas’ brother, Raul.  Raul, of course, is the most likely suspect in

Raul Salinas

a series of high-profile murders (including that of a former brother-in-law who happened to be the prosecutor looking into the sources of Raul’s dubious wealth) and even the Swiss government had to admit that at least 74 million of the 110 million dollars Raul had stashed away in the Alpine nation’s banks were stolen from the Mexican government.  The rest probably came from narcotics dealers, but that’s never been proven.

The dubious financing may be “third world-ish” although the amounts of money is more in the neighborhood of a first world inside job theft.  What is very “first world-ish” has been the close cooperation between the media corporation and the party to which they owe their allegiance.  Think of Fox News and the Republican Party in the United States, or the Canada Post and the Conservatives in Canada.  Or the Murdock empire and the Tories in Great Britain.

While it isn’t unheard of for a television network to lean one way or another politically (I know, MSNBC is said to be the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party, but that seems to be more just an attempt to carve out an image as the anti-Fox network for corporate branding as anything else), in Mexico we only have two networks… and Televisa is also closely tied to the Salinas wing of PRI.

Televisa, which suddenly decided not to run the debates on its “premier” channels, but only on its secondary ones (I think here in Mazatlán, three out of the five local channels are Televisa) had, even as an “independent” network controlled by the Azcárraga family showed a marked preference for the PRI:

Even as other media outlets, principally the press, were breaking from state control, Televisa remained firmly under the control of the PRI and the president, in particular. In the hotly contested 1988 presidential elections, Televisa refused to broadcast the rallies of opposition candidates Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and Manuel Clouthier, despite a growing tide of popular support for Cárdenas’ candidacy. Even as late as 1994, Televisa could be counted on to slant its political coverage heavily in favor of the PRI.

Less overly political… or more opportunistic (or simply corporate) than Azteca, Televisa was able to switch loyalties to the Fox Administration when PAN captured Los Pinos in 2000.  When Mexico City’s then Jefe de Gobierno, Andres Manuel López Obrador became a credible replacement for the PAN government, Televisa’s news division devoted extra time to even the most minor of Mexico City crimes, attempting to show the the Federal District administration as incompetent.  Even the entertainment division was pressed into service.  The popular “Brozo the Scary Clown” morning chat show was the venue for unveiling (by a PAN Senator) of videos of a Federal District official receiving cash payments from a wealthy business executive.  Also shown were tapes of the official gambling in Las Vegas, presumably part of evidence in an unrelated U.S. case that was supposed to be in the possession of the FBI.  López Obrador’s presidential run was, of course, not covered in nearly the detail of any of his opponents, and the protests that followed López Obrador’s loss in the disputed 2006 Presidential elections were covered by Televisa from the perspective of those inconvenienced by the protests, and little was said about the protesters, nor their issues, themselves.

Nor was the “alternative presidency” allowed to buy (even at normal rates) air time on Televisa.  Its loyalty to the political ruling class was what has been dubbed “el ley Televisa” of 2006:  a supposed “reform” proposed by the left, which would have opened the door to competition and market choice in television (and, yes, it is the left that has been pushing anti-monopolistic capitalism here), that was turned on its head to allow Televisa (and, to a lesser extent, Azteca)  to further consolidate their hold on the television market, and take over the few independent broadcasters.

Loyalty to those in power, yes…but, looking out for its stockholders (i.e. the various Azcárraga  family members) … not above switching loyalties for a price:

In 2005, then PRI candidate for governor of the State of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto’s supporters (which, in turn, were the Carlos Salinas faction of the PRI)

… signed a long-term, multimillion dollar deal with Televisa, the country’s dominant TV network, to buy air time for the governor to promote his programs, provide coverage of his activities, and boost his presence in national news. Along the way, Peña Nieto married a star of Televisa’s soap operas, Angelica Rivera, which provided extra coverage from the Mexican popular press and television media, with magazines such as Cara, Quién,  and Hola! carrying multipage photo spreads of the wedding. Their marriage even received the personal blessing of Pope Benedict XVI as the couple visited Rome accompanied by senior ranking bishops from the Mexican church.

The wedding, the visit the the Pope, etc. all earning lavish coverage on Televisa’s news programs.  Less savory incidents involving Peña Nieto… even when well known… were ignored.

López Obrador, of course, has no reason to trust Televisa, nor Azteca.  His party has always been a threat to their monopoly and the left is anti-monoplist.  It’s perhaps a side issue, but Televisa and Telmex have been in competition for the rights to cable access in the Federal District for years.  The cables were owned by LyF, the union-owned electric company for the Federal District that was forcibly taken over by the Calderón Administration and turned over to CFE (the state owned electric company) with the understanding that the cable rights would be sold.

However, with the left having managed to push the Calderón Administration to accept an anti-trust bill, and to go after monopolies, Televisa launched a crusade against TelMex… claiming that if their rival for cable access got those rights, THAT would be monopolistic, not if the television company did.

Now with PAN having to at least give lip service to breaking up monopolies, and the left against going with Lopez Obrador, who has pegged both the Azcárraga clan and Salinas Pleigo (as well as Carlos Salinas de Gotari) as part of the “Mafia of Power” that run Mexico (and they do), Televisa — which let us not forge has been well paid by Enrique Peña Nieto — and Azteca both have a stake in not just keeping Lopez Obrador and PAN candidate Josefina Vásquez Mota out of Los Pinos, but in keeping their parties from having enough members in the Chamber and Senate to force through either more anti-monopoly bills, or real media reforms.

Add to all this, that the Elections Commission — relatively independent — has been forced to make decisions that cut into the revenue stream of the television networks… specifically, that the networks have to show political party advertising at a set rate, regardless of the party, and in rotation (no one party getting the better air time than any other, and all parties receiving equal access to viewers).  Televisa notoriously flaunted the rules (running the political ads as a bundle during a futbol game in an attempt to infuriate viewers into demanding political ads be removed from the airwaves) in 2009, and has continually demanded to be treated  not as a means of providing information to the public, but as a partner to the judicial organism that makes the rules regulating the democratic process… in short, it wants to decide what is, and is not, democratic.

Azteca’s Salinas Pleigo, a la Fox News and the U.S. right, turned the language of protest upside down, claiming an infringement of his special rights to run a television network was state oppression.  He called it “authoritarian” to force television viewers to watch the debate when they could be watching a futbol game.  Needless to say, the viewers are “forced” to see the commercials on the futbol game.  That is, unless, like a one of the early 20th century’s greatest defenders of civil liberties and public speech (Mae West) said about those who objected to her risque language on the radio, “if you don’t like it, turn it off”.

“Turning off” voters is what the networks seem to want to do. While Televisa, as I suggested, has managed to serve both PAN and PRI, the chances of a return to Los Pinos by PAN are somewhere between slim and none… and besides, it’s heavily invested in (and is receiving massive revenue from) PRI and would like to continue doing so.  But Peña Nieto — although ahead in the polls — has yet to face his opponents. As Aguachile wrote about his debating skills (or lack thereof):

It is not an irrelevant fact that PRI frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto is desperate to avoid exposure of unscripted appearances, and the anti-democratic decision of the two chains are of tremendous help.

Note as well that Peña Nieto again bailed out of a debate: The woefully unprepared PRI frontrunner refused to participate in a presidential debate organized by Milenio, as did the inept PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, with the latter again declaring she would participate in no debate unless Peña Nieto appears.

Vásquez Mota is no real threat, having so far shown about the same intellectual depth as the presumed front-runner.  Quadri (PANAL) comes across as a somewhat amiable, but clueless dork, and his party seems only to hope to maintain its registration.  Which leaves AMLO.  With about 40 years of rabble-rousing and public speaking experience, a sharp wit and … whether voters approve of it or not… a coherent program that is coherently presented… if voters are turned on, he would be a real threat, not only to the other campaigns, but to the networks themselves.

Corporate interests molding public opinion, and changing the democratic process to suit their own interests, vilifying grassroots opposition and creating plastic candidates carefully is hardly the sign of a “third world” media campaign.  It is first world, and we’re all the worse off for that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 May 2012 5:31 am

    TV Azteca is still unhappy about the electoral reforms of 2007, which force it and other radio and TV outlets to run political ads free of charge. The whole industry lost a nice source of revenue. That’s what’s driving this. They’ll say it’s about free speech, but money is driving it.

  2. Allen Graham permalink
    2 May 2012 2:14 pm

    Interesting that Pinata is still ahead, but Josefina is in second place, stranger still. AMLO trails, and the reason stated in the press: the riots that he caused when he lost the last election.

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