the United States, where the videotaped beating of Rodney King
created a public outcry about police abuse and racism, videotaped
testimony in Mexico is putting authorities on the defensive.
In the past few years, Mexican television viewers have witnessed
the brutal assassination of a presidential candidate, a guerrilla
war in Chiapas, the massacre of 17 peasants, and Mexico City police
beating striking teachers.
"Videotape says to the government 'you can't deny it' or 'you
can't lie,' " says social critic and author Carlos Monsivais.
"That's a powerful message."
Much of this political violence has come to their TV screens via
privately owned, hand-held video cameras. The cameras have created
a new culture of accountability that has driven one governor from
power, forced the arrest of dozens of police, and exposed
Mexico's video revolution was brought about both by the
proliferation of video cameras and the increasingly willingness of
TV stations to put controversial footage on the air.
For decades, Mexicans have had one source of television news - a
monopoly called Televisa that was often little more than a
mouthpiece for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
But in the past few years, a rival network, TV Azteca, has gained a
wide audience, and cable networks like CNN and NBC's 24-hour
Spanish-language broadcast are reaching more and more cable
"Censorship used to be much cruder," says Sergio Sarmiento, the
vice president for news at TV Azteca. "We air things without
government approval, although sometimes we get flak for it."
Low-cost video equipment has made censorship that much harder
even when the footage doesn't make it on air. For example, after
part of the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City was captured on
film, the government immediately confiscated the footage. "But
video is multiple," says critic Monsivais. "It's impossible for the
government to round up all the copies."
Mexico's video revolution began in January 1994, when the rebel
Zapatista Army of National Liberation launched attacks in the
southern state of Chiapas. It seemed like a war made for
television, fought more with images than with guns.
Television showed images of Indians sometimes armed with sticks
fighting against government tanks. A tourist also caught the first
image of a light-skinned, masked leader later identified as
That February, Marcos gave his first videotaped interview. The
footage was not broadcast on the Mexican networks, but was widely
seen on cable. It was copied and distributed by hand throughout
Mexico, where VCRs are common even in the most remote hamlet. …