Cultural Policy in a Free-Trade Environment: Mexican Television in Transition

By Wilkinson, Kenton T. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Cultural Policy in a Free-Trade Environment: Mexican Television in Transition


Wilkinson, Kenton T., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Questions concerning what constitutes Mexican national culture, how it should be manifest, and the state's role in its protection and promotion changed considerably from the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution in 1920 through the 7-decade rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI by its Spanish acronym) to opposition candidate Vicente Fox's astounding election to the presidency in 2000.

This study focuses on a confluence of late-20th-century developments that are likely to influence Mexico's cultural politics and social change well into the new century. Certain developments, such as accelerated technological change and neoliberal economic reform, follow general global trends; others, like participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), are unique. Given Mexico's historic emphasis on national culture and long-standing concern about cultural encroachment by the United States, one would have expected ardent public discussion of free trade's potential impact on Mexico's culture and cultural industries. None developed, however. Rather, government representatives avoided or dismissed the issue, whereas academic researchers and public intellectuals--joined under the term cultural intelligentsia focused on outcomes for Mexican culture and identity. This disconnect represented a lost opportunity for cultural policy in Mexico. Contemporary political, economic, and technological forces are challenging established communication policy and practices in Mexico, as an overview of broadcast television in the 1990s reveals. Mexico's cultural policy must become more dynamic and inclusive to meet new demands and opportunities.

The Evolution of Cultural Policy

During the 20th century, cultural policy played a key role in articulating and implementing the state's will in the areas of public education, support for public art, and the protection of cultural sovereignty. In the period immediately following the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), cultural policy pursued objectives outlined in the Constitution of 1917: to develop an enlightened, nationalist middle class able to withstand the negative influences of caudillos and oligarchs while ameliorating traditional social antagonisms (Tovar y de Teresa, 1994). The state supported numerous public art projects, but also recognized the mass media's potential to guide cultural processes unleashed by the Revolution toward the social-integration and institution-building goals of modernization. Radio and film received particular attention from the state, which backed film production at the Churubusco studios built in 1944, and expanded radio into rural areas. The 1930s and 1940s also saw the development of government institutions to protect and promote Mexico's cultural heritage. These included the National Institute of Fine Arts, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, and the Cultural Economics Fund, which supported intellectual pursuits such as scholarship, publishing, and exhibits.

Following World War II and continuing through the 1960s, Mexican cultural policy shifted toward social justice as the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the nonaligned nations sought a third path toward development during the Cold War. Increased attention was paid to promoting the cultural production of indigenous communities through low-cost, low-technology media such as radio and artisanship.

As concerns broadcasting, the 1960 Federal Radio and Television Law was not promulgated until 1973, nearly a quarter-century after Mexico's first television broadcast. It implemented the so-called 12.5% rule, granting the federal government greater access to public airwaves that were under commercial control. The broadcast policy was intended to dovetail with others in education, telecommunications, and health, but seldom achieved its aims and was lightly enforced (Diaz de Cossio, 1988). President Jose Lopez Portillo (1976-1982) sought to limit private influence over mass media while expanding individual rights to information, yet one analyst characterized his administration's efforts as a "resounding failure" (Caletti Kaplan, 1988, p.

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