Imagine democracy being suborned by a corporate takeover, with a business-friendly political party promoted by a dominant media group, and the Left being routinely smeared and belittled. A stretch, admittedly, for anyone here in Australia… er, hang on…
There is an important difference, however, between fears over editorial interference and the work of a secret cell within the biggest television station, channelling tens of millions of dollars worth of advertising and favourable coverage to an individual contender for high office.
A Sydney Morning Herald beholden to mining interests would, no doubt, be at risk of strategic silences over vital issues on the news agenda, but that is still some way short of a deliberate political conspiracy.
That’s what Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-speaking media group who controls the puma’s share of Mexican television, is alleged to have done. The campaign to elect the country’s next president, which culminates on Sunday, has been enlivened by student protests under the slogan, "Mexico Respierta", or "Mexico, wake up", and one such protest gathered outside Televisa’s headquarters.
What is sorely needed in Mexico is "objective reporting" which supplies viewers with the opportunity they need to make up their own minds, the students told NM. A banner at another protest read: "Even my mother manipulates me less than Televisa".
The company denies there’s anything amiss, but the local correspondent for the London Guardian has uncovered what are billed as leaked internal documents that apparently prove Televisa has for years been promoting Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ran Mexico for 70 years before being ousted in 2000.
The smooth former state governor remarried a few years back, to the star of one of the station’s popular soap operas. The couple have been heavily promoted on air ever since. Peña Nieto’s election posters appear to promise all things to all voters; wider access to healthcare and education, for example. Another important difference from the political landscape in Australia: he’s brought the Green party onside and is presenting himself as the figurehead of a "compromise coalition".
He’s the frontrunner in opinion polls and has also promised to treble spending on "security", even from its current raised level, in what amounts to a further intensification of the "drug war" that’s cost 60,000 lives since the incumbent president, Felipe Calderón, took office six years ago.
What we would certainly recognise here in Australia is the habitual ways in which that conflict is reported in mainstream media — not just by Televisa. There’s a concentration on arrests of alleged "kingpins" of the drug cartels, and on the death and destruction they leave in their wake as they scrabble for control of key smuggling routes.
There is much less space for exploring why some people join the gangs in the first place, and what could be done — and is being done — to offer them a route to a better future. That is the major focus of this film, Peace Journalism in Mexico, which is based on material gathered for my research project, "A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict". It’s sponsored by the University of Sydney and the Australian Research Council, with partnership by the International Federation of Journalists and Act for Peace.
Watch the film here.
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