The Media

The Media

Based on the number of newspapers, publishers, radio stations, and television networks in the country, Mexico is considered the media power center of Spanish-speaking Latin America. Mexico's mainstream newspapers and periodicals range in political ideology and independence from the official government newspaper El Nacional to the left-wing independent El Proceso . Although the press was for many years generally pro-establishment and supportive of the PRI, it diversified during the 1980s to reflect a wider spectrum of opinion. In early 1994, the government postponed its stated plans to sell El Nacional to private owners but declared that the newspaper would no longer receive public funding.

The constitution of 1917 explicitly guarantees freedom of the press. Article 7 forbids prior censorship, and an amendment to Article 6 adopted in 1977 declares that "the right of information will be guaranteed by the state." However, these guarantees are highly qualified in practice. The Press Law of 1917, for instance, restricts the press on matters of personal privacy, morality, and public health. Many other regulations govern the news media. The 1960 Law on Radio and Television, for instance, forbids the broadcast of material deemed offensive to national heroes.

Although nominally independent, the news media are subject to a variety of mainly indirect economic and political pressures from the government. The Secretariat of Communi-cations and Transport supervises the news media, granting publishing and broadcast licenses and ensuring adherence to the media laws. Successive PRI governments have influenced the news media by paying individual journalists for favorable coverage, by restricting access to newsprint and ink (the state monopolizes the production of both, although this control was somewhat reduced under President Salinas), by withholding information from critical journalists, and especially by granting or withholding government advertising, an important source of revenue for the press. Many newspapers accept government payments for the insertion of official announcements disguised as editorials. Occasionally, the government provides indirect financial inducements to particular journalists (for example, by offering them part of the payment for official advertising run by their newspapers). Some journalists and opposition political parties have accused the government of trying to conceal the extent of official subsidies to journalists by redirecting payoffs through the PRI's Office of Information.

Government tolerance of press freedoms varies according to the sensitivities of the president in office. Traditionally, the media avoid direct criticism of an incumbent president. On sensitive issues affecting the government, the press provides only minimal coverage. Among the many unwritten rules is one that says that journalists are expected to respect the image of the president and other high-level government officials.

In essence, government policies may be criticized, but elected individuals must not be ridiculed. Since the early 1980s, the trend toward a more open political debate has brought greater tolerance of criticism in the media. Some argue that this tolerance, which has occurred faster than the increasing democratization of the political system, has definitively contributed to increasing public awareness of the need for changes within the Mexican political system.

Television is highly biased toward the official party, as illustrated by the open support the Televisa network gives to the government. Televisa is part of Mexican Telesystem (Telesistema Mexicano), considered the biggest communications conglomerate in the developing world, as well as one of the world's major transnational media empires. Televisa's political and economic influence in Mexico is extensive. Aside from the ownership of television and radio stations, it has significant interests in newsprint and publishing, record production, home videos, cinemas, advertising and marketing, real estate, tourism, sports, and the food processing and transport industries.

Mexico City has fifteen newspapers; its dailies account for more than 50 percent of the national circulation. In 1994 there were eight newspapers in Mexico City with a daily circulation of more than 100,000 issues: Esto (450,000), La Prensa (300,000), Novedades (240,000), Ovaciones (220,000), El Heraldo de México (209,600), Excélsior (200,000), El Financiero (135,000), and El Universal (122,000). Excélsior is the most prestigious national daily and one of the most prominent newspapers in Latin America, known for its breadth of coverage, analytical style, and relative independence. The oldest of the traditional newspapers is El Universal , closely associated with the government throughout the 1970s, but currently known for its independence in reporting. El Nacional is the official newspaper of the federal government. The largest newspaper group is the Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), which owns some ninety newspapers throughout the country. The second largest publishing group is Novedades Editores, which is part of the Telesistema Mexicano conglomerate. Some of the leading daily newspapers, such as Excélsior and La Prensa , are run as cooperatives.

There are five national news agencies: Notimex, Infomex, Noti-Acción, Notipress, and Agencia Mexicana de Información. Infomex is the largest, with almost 100 offices throughout the country and some twenty foreign correspondents. All leading international agencies have bureaus in Mexico City.

National broadcasting stations are divided into commercial and cultural networks. All commercial stations are financed by advertising (both public and private) but must provide 12 percent of broadcasting time for government use. All cultural stations are operated by government agencies or by educational institutions. Media analysts expect that the economic policies pursued by the Salinas and Zedillo administrations will have a major impact on the media by further reducing state intervention and promoting the concentration of private ownership.

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