IN an effort to polish the sullied image of Mexico's news media,
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has ordered an end to
government handouts to journalists.
Banning the chayote, a decades-old practice of paying a monthly
bribe to reporters, columnists, and cartoonists, is the principal
change in a set of new standards of conduct established by law for
government agencies earlier this month.
"These are not isolated moves," says Gabriel Guerra, a
presidential spokesman. "They are part of a pattern to modernize
the relationship between the government and the media that began
early in this administration with the end of the newsprint monopoly
and the sale of government-owned media."
In September, President Salinas ordered a halt to the practice
of paying the expenses of journalists who travel with him on
official overseas trips. The latest guidelines include tighter
accounting procedures for government press offices. For example,
all checks must be made out to a specific name and these offices
must now submit a monthly report of expenses. But the new rules do
not stop the payment of advertising commissions (10 to 15 percent)
to the reporters who cover government agencies that place regular
The measures are being greeted with a mixture of hope and
"It's an advance. A small one, but an advance," says Raymundo
Riva Palacio, an editor for the business daily El Financiero.
"They're moving in the right direction," says Sergio Aguayo,
president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights. "Basic to a
democracy is an independent press, which can't happen without
economic independence." But, he adds: "There's still a lot to do.
It's a hugely corrupt system."
Mr. Riva concurs: "They're attacking the weakest link in the
chain of corruption. If you want to get at the heart of the
problem, you have to go after the subsidies paid to the media."
Government officials and political parties commonly pay for
publicity and photos to appear in newspapers. The insertions appear
to be regular news items, not paid advertisements. A front-page
article can cost up to $30,000. During a political campaign last
year, the relatively independent daily La Jornada confessed to
accepting $10,000 to run two photos: one showing a candidate
speaking to a large crowd, another of a candidate speaking to an
almost empty street.
Business firms also pay the press: A Mexican businessman, who
asked to remain anonymous, says he often pays "several thousand
dollars" to have Televisa, a private television network with a
24-hour news channel, cover his conferences. …