Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

President Vicente Fox Modifies Media Law to Significantly Reduce Free Government Usage of Broadcast Media

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

President Vicente Fox Modifies Media Law to Significantly Reduce Free Government Usage of Broadcast Media

Article excerpt

President Vicente Fox unleashed a political storm with his proposal to discontinue the requirement that television stations donate at least three hours a day, or the equivalent of 12.5% of their air time, to the government.

Fox proposed the changes through a modification of the existing broadcast-media law (Ley de Radio y Television). The changes reduce the free air time allotted the government to 18 minutes for television and 35 minutes for radio daily, although this time must be allocated between the peak hours of 6 a.m. and midnight. Under the plan, the government would have to pay media outlets for any time beyond those limits.

Fox said the decision was part of his campaign for a more democratic and open Mexico, which includes a more independent government-funded news agency, Notimex, and a new freedom-of- information law (see SourceMex, 2002-05-08).

"The quality of our democracy...will be marked by the quality of our mass press," Fox said during an announcement of the new guidelines. "The media's values decisively influence politics, culture, and citizen behavior."

The former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) for years used the broadcast media extensively to disseminate its positions.

"The government used the 12.5% quota and the concessions of licenses to pressure the media to say what it wanted, or to cover up certain stories or to force networks to express themselves in some other manner," said Emilio Azcarraga Jean, president of the broadcast giant Televisa.

Some media analysts said the decision would reap significant financial benefits for broadcast giants like Televisa, Radio Red, and Television Azteca in 2003, a national election year. "This opens the possibility for increased payments from the government to air electoral messages, because the free air time has been reduced significantly," said a report from Banamex-Citigroup.

President criticized for failure to consult Congress

Fox's decision met strong protests from the Mexican Congress, including members of the president's center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN). Legislators criticized the president for not bringing the Congress into the decision, which they said was promoted by the large media conglomerates.

"Unfortunately, this law was negotiated in the dark," said PRI Sen. Adrian Alanis Quinones. "It satisfies the interests of a group over the interest of society."

PAN Sen. Javier Corral, who chairs the Senate communications and transportation committee (Comision de Comunicaciones y Transporte), said the negotiation ran counter to Fox's pledge for more open government. "These are dark days for democracy," said Corral. "Old forms of political negotiations are being recycled. …

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