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Government ads, a powerful tool against press freedom in Mexico

You just have to follow the money trail: who benefits from the 38.000 million pesos (2 billion US $ aprox) in government advertising that President Enrique Peña Nieto spent, to date? Español

Three Azcárraga generations and Enrique Peña Nieto. Photo: Cuartoscuro.

This article is being published as part of the partnership between Sin Embargo and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.

In Mexico, if you want your video on a political and/or government-related issue to get significant views on YouTube, you have several options, including two that are actually safe bets: the first is to give it a title saying: "What you won't see on Televisa", or "What Televisa does not want you to see"; the second is to encourage people to watch your video "before the government deletes it".

Many ideas wear out, of course - especially in the Net. You have to find the right formula, but a good idea is a winning one for a long time if you keep on updating it. Just look at Televisa. It has been exploiting the same formula for decades: offering rubbish to Mexicans from its media monopoly (duopoly) and delivering goods to the government of the day. In other words: stupefying the population by choice and, for business reasons, being always at the service of politicians, parties and governments that let it keep on exploiting those it is stupefying. 

Televisa is the most obvious case, but not the only one. Just follow the money trail: who benefits from the 38.000 million pesos in government advertising that President Enrique Peña Nieto spent, to date? On what will he spend the 60 billion pesos which, it is reckoned, the current federal administration will be spending in total in this six-year term?

If a successful idea for a YouTube video is exploited over the years, it will obviously wear itself out. This is happening with the "Anonymous" videos, which are no longer anonymous. And this is happening to Televisa too: its owners, the Azcárragas, for three generations now have been exploiting and/or extorting federal and state governments, but they forgot something along the way: formulas need to be updated.

Today, Televisa is experiencing user fatigue. Its newscasts are a real shame and their prestige is constantly going down; its telenovelas are based on old, empty, rehashed ideas; its programs are vulgar, pure tits and ass.

I know people who have not tuned in its newscasts for years. And I know at least five people from my generation who are currently writing stories for Netflix. There are many examples to illustrate the fact that Televisa is widely seen as a far away... giant. Many examples showing that Televisa stinks and not because I, or someone else says so:  it stinks because it is rotting. If you look at the last figures reported to the stock market by this media group you will see that the business has ceased to be funny and its logo smells like a graveyard. 

Someone was wondering what he would do with 300 million, with 1 or 5 billion pesos in his hand, to spend on media. It is difficult to say. Especially because of what my Dad used to say: that which you don’t sweat, has no taste; that which does not cost, goes down the drain.

The pro-government media suck public resources to position themselves. They suck resources (money that is almost given away) at a rate of hundreds of millions, billions, but their reporters are not the best paid, they do not come up with any winning ideas, nor does President Peña Nieto - which is the one who signs the checks - end up well positioned in the public opinion ratings. So, where does all this money go? 

Of course, the 38 billion pesos (2 billion US $ aprox) that have been spent so far during his mandate have to cover, among other things, the cost of the yachts and the luxuries of the big media owners. The rumour has been going around for a long time that there is a financial sinkhole in social communication at the Presidency (perhaps we will know for sure eventually), particularly in spending on advertising agencies - although this is only speculation. I think, however, that a good portion of the money is spent on an intangible item: stopping critical media. Current formulas are so worn out that part of that money has to be used to contain others, and thus keep afloat the system. 

What would happen to the main national printed media if the money from the federal government stopped coming in? Would they be able to print any more copies? What would happen with their websites, with their dozens of editors and reporters?

This highlights another indirect effect: the billions that the Peña administration gives out are aimed also at making life difficult for the free and independent press. Theu are aimed at trying to keep it stifled. At fostering unfair competition. And even so, by the way, the independent press in Mexico keeps on growing. 

What would be the real numbers of the Mexican press if tomorrow (hopefully, this will happen some day) that immoral spending of billions of pesos is cancelled? What media outlets would still be open, as legitimate businesses, the next day? Which would survive? 

Under the current administration,Televisa has accumulated all that is required for a firm to fail: a bad reputation, the smell of corruption, and the feeling that it has wasted vital time to modernize its business and to avoid relying so heavily on government spending. But Televisa not has not failed, far from it. 

As long as there are immoral and corrupt politicians, these media will survive. The former like advertising paid for with people's money, and traditional media enjoy living off Mexicans' money. They are made for each other. 

The option for stopping them is regulating government advertising. The Mexican Supreme Court of Justice has been presented with a report from Minister Zaldívar that could put a brake on immoral spending. Let us hope that this body can rise to the occasion.

Mexico cannot afford the luxury of fooling about while media such as Televisa manipulate the masses, impose good-for-nothing politicians and parasites in power and swell on the money of a country with 53 million poor people. 

Mexico must understand that in order to change, in order to truly change, it must put an end to decades of abuse from politicians and the media with public money.

There are 60 billion reasons to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. 60 billion: one reason for every peso that - according to calculations by Fundar and Artículo 19 – the Peña administration will spend on government advertising.

About the author

Alejandro Páez Varela es un editor, escritor, y periodista mexicano. Es autor, entre otros libros, de La guerra por Juárez (2009),​ Corazón de Kaláshnikov​ y No incluye baterías (2010). Actualmente es director de contenidos de SinEmbargo.mx

Alejandro Páez Varela is a Mexican editor, writer, and journalist. He is the author, among other books, of La guerra por Juárez (2009), Corazón de Kaláshnikov and No incluye baterías (2010). He is currently the content director of SinEmbargo.mx.


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