14 November 2007

Mexico: The Candidates and the Media

From Mexico Reporter:

A new electoral reform goes into effect in Mexico today that aims to redefine the relationship between the country’s major broadcasters and the government, and to level the political playing field.

The changes to the constitution could help improve the quality of media editorial in Mexico, and help it to become more politically independent than it currently is.

In a move which has been labeled an ‘attack on free speech’ by Mexico’s two major television stations, Televisa and Tele Azteca, political parties have been banned from buying ads on television and radio stations.

Protests from the country’s two leading broadcasters are more likely due to the fact that they stand to loose [sic] millions of pesos of advertising income as a result of the reforms, rather than concerns for the right to free speech.

Constitutional amendments mean that television and radio stations are now obliged to broadcast 48 minutes a day of free political advertising, forbidding parties from buying their own airtime. Presidential campaigning will also be limited to within three months before election day, and bans political parties from mud-slinging or insulting other political institutions and candidates.

I'm not even sure what to think about this. It's certainly an improvement in many ways over the current barrage of propaganda that Mexico's reigning political parties pump into the popular media, and thus the entire atmosphere with every election cycle (sound familiar, America?). On the other hand, who's to say in a "free market" that corporations, media outlets, political parties and individual candidates don't get to sell what resources they have, buy what resources they can afford, and let the market decide what it wants? Of course public monies should remain neutral, but should governments legislate how individuals or entities spend their own pesos or dollars?

Here's what I really want to know: will this reform genuinely "level the playing field?" Don't get me wrong. The current system is corrupt, busted, morally bankrupt, and far from democratic. In my increasing skepticism, though, I find it hard to take anything at face value. What's the motivation behind this new amendment, where does it come from, who are the players? I find it hard to imagine that anything ratified by Mexico's politicians is designed to help the little guy.