Magazine article Monthly Review

Octopus of the Airwaves

Magazine article Monthly Review

Octopus of the Airwaves

Article excerpt

OCTOPUS OF THE AIRWAVES

Televisa is Mexico's great media pulpo (octopus). With a virtual monopoly on Mexican television and ownership of a slew of film and recording studios, publishing houses, movie theaters, and radio stations, its tentacles reach into the remotest areas of Mexico. Though its profits are kept a close secret, Televisa is probably the most powerful private company in Mexico.

Whereas half of Mexico's population is functionally, if not entirely illiterate, one television set exists for every twelve Mexicans. (Ninety percent of Mexico City's homes have a TV).1 Consequently, Televisa has become the main source of news and information for the masses. By 1982, up to 96 percent of the viewing public was tuned in to Televisa programming at any given time.2

Televisa transmits over 400 hours a week of television broadcasting, more than any other broadcasting company in the world.3 This year it hopes to export 30,000 hours of programming,4 much of it in the form of soap operas for the South American market. Through its Univision network, Televisa reaches over 3,200,000 households in 26 states in the United States.5

"Televisa . . . is a new power within the Mexican political system,' writes Hector Aquilar in the daily Uno mas uno. "It is a power equal to and sometimes superior to the traditional privileged sectors of the system. . . . It competes for hegemony . . . over the formation of the national conscience.'6

Television came to Mexico in 1942 when the engineer Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena, one of the pioneers in the field, achieved the country's first television transmission. Soon thereafter, the Mexican government began to receive requests for broadcast concessions from Mexican and foreign entrepreneurs (including a U.S. Senator and Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube). One such petitioner was the Mexican radio and film tycoon Emilio Azcarraga Vidaurreta; in 1946, Azcarraga formed Television Asociada, an organization of Latin America's top radio magnates whose goal was to pressure governments throughout the region to accept their leadership in the dawning television industry.

Conservative President Miguel Aleman Valdes handed the first Mexican television concession to Romulo O'Farrill, the arch-conservative publisher of Novedades. O'Farrill called his new company Television de Mexico, S.A. (The O'Farrill family is today one of the wealthiest in Mexico. Romulo O'Farrill, Jr., has sat on the board of directors of six corporations and banks, including RCA Victor de Mexico and Sears Roebuck de Mexico. The O'Farrills also own The News, an English-language daily from Mexico City which has traditionally functioned, as the magazine NACLA once put it, as "a huge ad for the United States, the American Colony, and the Mexican bourgeoisie.'7)

In 1951 Azcarraga formed his own broadcasting company: Televimex, S.A. By then Azcarraga had undisputed control of Radio Programas de Mexico, which in 1945 had absorbed NBC's and CBS's radio interests in Mexico and emerged as the country's biggest radio chain. President Aleman gave the second television concession to Azcarraga's new company, and the third to his own family. Eventually the Azcarragas, the O'Farrills, and the Alemans brought their television companies together under the name Telesistema Mexicano.

By keeping the licensing in the name of the original companies, the triumvirate avoided, at least as far as the letter of the law was concerned, charges that it was trying to monopolize the industry. But in fact, monopolization was exactly what it was seeking. In 1972, Telesistema Mexicano merged with Television Independiente de Mexico, owned by the powerful "Alva Group' of industrialists based in Monterrey. The result was the huge conglomerate known today as Televisa.

Miguel Aleman Velasco, son of President Aleman, was put in charge of exporting television programming abroad. …

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