Media independence in Mexico?

This report also appeared in Press Gazette at the end of last year:

The concept of media independence in Mexico is complex. Much of the media is financially dependent on the Government, therefore those media that are considered ‘independent’ are those that do not rely on the state for the lion’s share of their income. The concept of independence in terms of editorial objectivity is another issue, but of course the two are closely related.

The Mexican Congress is currently in the process of revamping electoral laws that would put the breaks on the huge amounts of public money spent on electoral campaigns each year. Media moguls have denounced the proposed ban on paid political advertising on radio and television as an attack on free speech and are terrified of losing the combined millions that it amounts to each year. However, such changes could prove positive in the long-term for the editorial independence of some television and newspaper companies if they’re not dependent on the Government for the bread and butter. That is of course if they survive the proposed cuts.

There are media that are highly critical of the Government, such as the left-wing magazine Proceso, but their slant will determine their access to funds. Last month, for example, Proceso stated: “The government of President Felipe Calderón uses public money to punish and pressure, or to reward and favour media outlets according to their editorial line.”

Dario Fritz, coordinator for the good practice programme in Mexico for freelancers by the Rory Peck Trust, says: “Lots of advertisers don’t want to advertise in Proceso because it is so critical of the state.”

Record high levels of violence against journalists last year and the infancy of democracy in Mexico as well as the aforementioned financial issues combine to create a highly partisan and controlled media industry. Despite reports to the contrary blaming the organized crime networks for violent attacks against journalists, state officials are the main perpetrators this form of repression, according to Article19 in Mexico.

The violence against the media last year highlights ‘the extreme polarization of Mexican society and politics in the election year, and politicians’ pressures on the media and the information system,’ according to a report by Article 19.

Wherever it’s coming from, the climate of aggression towards journalists encourages them to use a policy of self-censorship – a policy endorsed by the Attorney General of Mexico, Eduardo Medina Mora in August. That endorsement ignores completely the state’s obligation to protect its citizens from attacks on their freedom of expression.

As a result, media ‘independence’ in the sense of independent reporting comes with a price so high that it struggles to exist.

There is an umbrella of grassroots, non-commercial media organisations in Mexico that operate under the umbrella brand of Centro de Medios Libres (Center of Free Media), using newspapers, the internet and local radio. One of their editors, Fabian Duran, revealingly said that the centre uses an ‘anarchist-based approach’:

“We mainly work supporting the EZLN [the guerilla army force headed by, amongst others, the now notorious SubComandante Marcos] and all the movements that are peaceful – we are for peaceful change but we don’t believe in laws or political parties.”

Fritz says it is virtually impossible for freelancers and independent journalists to survive economically in Mexico due to the low levels of remuneration they receive for their efforts, as well as for lack of a strong union and protection from physical retribution. Salaried journalists can earn as little as a thousand dollars a month – freelancing generally brings in much less.

As a result, media independence appears to be something that neither the Mexican state nor its media can afford.

Author’s note: Looking at this piece a few months after writing, current events only compound the theory that independent / critical media is hard to come by here. Earlier this month, the silencing of Carmen Aristegui was interpreted by many as a political move by owners of her employer W Radio – Televisa and El Pais – to silence a critical voice. Please see https://mexicoreporter.wordpress.com/category/carmen-aristegui/ for more on this….
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3 Responses

  1. Looking at this piece a few months after writing, current events only compound the theory that independent / critical media is hard to come by here.

    Earlier this month, the silencing of Carmen Aristegui was interpreted by many as a political move by owners of her employer W Radio – Televisa and El Pais – to silence a critical voice.

    Please see https://mexicoreporter.wordpress.com/category/carmen-aristegui/ for more on this….

  2. “Salaried journalists can earn as little as a thousand dollars a month – freelancing generally brings in much less.”

    I’d say there are many salaried journalists who earn much less. I’ve known some journalists who earn as little as 400 dollars a month. Of course, these salaries only provoke the well known “chayote” or pay-off.

  3. Hopefully this new law will pass and allow for more voices to be heard in the Mexican media….

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