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I have a little list….

26 May 2019

A war on the media, or on corruption?  The notorious list of payments to journalists (and the companies they control) — somewhat ironically, first published in the editorially anti-administration Reforma — has ratcheted up claims that AMLO is conducting a defamation campaign against unfriendly media coverage and even of endangering reporters.  While it’s been common knowledge that the previous administration spent lavishly on self-promotion and the state has long used advertising revenue (and bribes, disguised in various forms) to individual “influencers”…basically forever… it’s a shock to see the list heavily slanted towards anti-AMLO journalists… many of whom have claimed their opposition to “populism” is based on a tradition of free speech and liberal values, making it appear the “free” speech wasn’t exactly free, and their values had a price.

For a bit of objectivity, I’m once again turning to the Spanish press coverage;  Luis Pablo Beauregard, in yesterday’s El País:

Julio Scherer García, the godfather of modern Mexican journalism, had a maxim: “a journalist is never news”. That was turned on its head Thursday, when a list of communicators who received public money during the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) was leaked to the media. The 41 names, including some of the most influential reporters in Mexico, has caused an uproar and has ignited the debate about the perverse relationship between journalism and power, where government money has served to bind media to the administration.

Listed are journalists who received 1,080 million pesos, 56 million dollars, for “social communication and other services” between 2013 and 2018. Topping the list is Joaquín López Dóriga, who was for 16 years fronted the evening news program on Televisa, the country’s main television network. According to the document, the news program was paid more than 250 million pesos (13 million dollars) through four content companies, one of them its digital platform. López Dóriga denied this, saying said he never received a peso from the Government. “The information from the President’s office is defamation,” said the former anchorman, who last April was awarded the Rey de España prize in recognition of his journalistic career.

The controversy has also touched historian Enrique Krauze, one of the most influential intellectuals in the country. The leaked document shows that Krauze, and the two publishing companies he runs, Vuelta and Clío, received 144 million pesos. 28 million of which was for advertising. The rest was for documentaries on the centenary of Octavio Paz, José Revueltas and the poet Efraín Huerta, among others, produced for the Ministry of Culture. Krauze considered the information “tendentious” and “unfounded” and explained that the money was received by his publishing companies and not by him. “Letras Libres [his flagship magazine] does not modify its editorial line due to pressures,” he told Reforma, the first newpaper to publish the list, and where Krauze is a regular columnist.

The reaction of other journalists who appear in the list has been similar. “Why did they only disclose media owned by journalists? Why not others, such as Milenio, who took more than billion pesos? Why not what was received by the big television stations, the newspapers, …? “asked Federico Arreola, who confirmed that SDP, the on-line news media he owns, received 153 million pesos (eight million dollars) from the PRI Administration.

The list also includes journalists such as Adela Micha, former Televisa manager (24 million, 1.2 million dollars); Raymundo Riva Palacio (31 million, 1.6 million dollars); Óscar Mario Beteta (74 million, 3.8 million dollars) and influencers like Callo De Hacha, who through his company Strategic Communications Newlink pocketed 47 million pesos (2.4 million dollars) for his services to the Peña Nieto government. Riva Palacio texted a challenge to the president, claiming that “old data” had been repackaged for a “a permanent campaign of defamation” against journalists critical of Morena’s president.

Some of the listed communicators and companies argue that while meant to be embarrassing, in reality their paymenrs are only a fraction of what the Peña Nieto administration injected to the media. Over six years, the PRI president invested 60 trillion pesos, about three billion dollars in official advertising. It is not clear if the one trillion, eight-one billion pesos in payments on the list are part of that same budget item or where listed separately. Filtration hinders transparency.

On May 8, the National Institute of Access to Information (INAI) ordered the presidency to reveal the names of journalists and media that received official publicity resources during the Peña Nieto period. This Thursday, López Obrador admitted that the information had been delivered on Wednesday 22. Hours later it became public setting off the public controversy. The INAI denied responsibilty for the leak in a Friday statement.

The list began to circulate Thursday night among the journalists who cover President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s normal morning press briefing. On Friday morning, however, the president categorically denied his office’s responsibility for the leak. “Under the word of truth, we did not disclose the names of those who received these supports for [journalism],” said López Obrador. “That had to do with other government agencies.”

The journalists mentioned have raised several questions. What was the reason for leaking it? Why does only Animal Politico, an independent medium, appear on the list, when other media outets, which received far more money were left out? These and other questions remain unanswered today in a whirlwind of controversies between power and the press that seems to be gaining strength.

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