The issue of how to preserve and promote cultural diversity through the mass media has been central in policy debates and regulations both in Europe and in North America. In the beginning of the 21st century, with the huge importance and technological developments of the mass media, the debate about how to reconcile the commercial imperatives of the media with the social goal of the promotion of cultural diversity has become even more crucial. More than any other cultural medium, the mass media (radio, television, and film, in particular) have become the arena where cultural supply is structured and where cultural identities are depicted and shaped. These media create, distribute, and promote the symbols and resources that are appropriated and redesigned by audiences. As Golding (1998) argued, the mass media "are unique in providing both
goods that command a critical place in the modern economy as well as providing the vehicles by which the symbols and values that people deploy in making sense of their lives are delivered and disseminated" (p. 16).
The idea of national audiences pertaining to a homogeneous group of people with similar interests, backgrounds, and ideas has never been in agreement with social reality and seems meaningless in the face of the processes of migration and multiculturalism that characterize contemporary countries and regions. This is the case in Mexico, with a heterogeneous audience with diverse ethnic, geographic, and class backgrounds that asks for plural public debates and access to the media.
What are the alternatives to promote and maintain cultural diversity in a country closely integrated with the United States, not just through economic trade but through the mass media? A starting point may be to discuss whether the media should fulfill a social role and whether they should be prompted or forced to promote cultural diversity. The answer to this question seems to be clear. The legal framework of Mexico, as is the case in Canada and the United States, expects the media, in particular electronic media, to promote diversity. The standing Radio and Television Federal Law in Mexico, although it does not explicitly mention the promotion of cultural diversity as a goal, mandates that radio and television stations foster gender equality and respect for the rights of vulnerable groups (Reglamento de la Ley Federal, 2003). It also explicitly prohibits any content that discriminates against ethnic groups (Ley Federal de Radio y Television, 1962, Art. 63).
As Freedman (2004) argued, references to diversity and pluralism appear in policy or legal documents that are highly deregulatory and liberalizing in character. This is true in a U.S. case, where a recent review by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of media ownership regulation ended in a decision to loosen ownership rules and sanction further cross-media ownership (Freedman, 2004). It is also true for the Mexican case, where federal administrations have advocated neoliberal policies from the mid-1980s to the present day (Lozano, 2003). Mexican audiovisual and telecommunications industries have experienced significant changes since the early 1980s, consolidated in the 1990s, and have dramatically transformed the supply and consumption of these services in the early 2000s. Many years before the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican government embraced trends and economic policies geared toward liberalization, deregulation, and privatization of the economy in general, and in particular the audiovisual and telecommunications sectors (Crovi, 2000; Gomez Mont, 2000; Sanchez Ruiz, 2000a). In contrast with the nationalistic and protectionist policies embraced by the different administrations since Mexico's independence in 1910 up to the 1970s, the 1980s represented a radical shift toward the adoption of neoliberal strategies and models. After a severe economic crisis in 1982, the administration of Miguel de la Madrid decided to open the economy in unprecedented ways. …