Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1810, and in 1822 it became a republic. Of the history prior to the 1910 revolution, the war between Mexico and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century needs to be mentioned, in which the former lost almost half of its territory – this became a permanent source of friction in the relations between the two countries. Nowadays Mexico is a federal republic with 31 states and a federal district constituted under specific provisions. It has a presidential system in which the significance of the legislative branch is increasing. It has a population of 107 million people – to which around 20 million people living either legally or illegally in the United States should be added – with a per capita income of US$6,230 per year, and almost 90 percent of Mexicans are Catholics. Nevertheless, the influence of evangelical groups is increasing. The presence of indigenous groups is another important factor. Mexico is the only Latin American member country of the OECD and it is shaping up as a booming developing nation. However, its development has always been hampered by overwhelming social and economic inequality.
During recent years, the Mexican media system has experienced significant modifications. These may be explained by the strong interdependence between the media and the country’s democratization process. After almost 70 years of de facto hegemony by Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the election of Vicente Fox Quesada in 2000 meant that an opposition politician became head of state for the first time. This trend was confirmed in 2006. As a consequence, Mexico has a pluralistic media environment, particularly in its press. Within this scene, the audiovisual media system – primarily television – is shaped by oligopolistic structures.
Legal And Economic Conditions
In Mexico, the rights of journalists and the media lack a modern context because their legal framework dates from 1917. Also, many Articles are not enforced and this leads to arbitrariness. In 2003 a step forward was made by setting forward the Ley de Transparencia (Transparency Act) and the constitution of the Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información (IFAI). The recent decriminalization of slander constituted another improvement for the media. Nevertheless, users of the media lack rights such as that of rebuttal.
Notwithstanding, based on the number of journalists murdered, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for representatives of the press. It is necessary to highlight that the perpetrators and planners of crimes against the press are seldom searched for and prosecuted. According to the International Federation of Journalists (FIP), 10 out of 150 media representatives subject to violence during 2006 were from Mexico. The state has been incapable of protecting and ensuring freedom for the media and their representatives.
On the other hand, the economic conditions under which many journalists live lead to a decrease in the quality of their work. Many of them need to have several jobs at a time so that they can gain a decent way of life. This is why they are the privileged targets of corruption. The lack of job alternatives, particularly outside the capital, leads to risks for journalistic professionalism and independence.
The social division that exists in the biggest Spanish-speaking country in the world has a strong influence on the media and on the benefits it confers to different parts of the population. Thus, printed media continue to be elitist and expensive. In some regions, the high percentage of illiteracy is also an exclusion criterion. According to available data, the average Mexican reads half a book a year. The book market has between half a million and seven million readers. The circulation of most of the 300 newspapers is low, with the exception of a few tabloids, and they are concentrated within the biggest cities. In the capital there are 21 newspapers with very pluralist features.
Circulation numbers are still kept secret by the newspaper owners, and their economies do not reflect a need for autonomous control mechanisms. However, newspapers as influential as Reforma sell no more than 200,000 copies a day. Free newspapers are offered on street corners and on buses and the subway. Public opinion polls show that more than 40 percent of Mexicans never read a newspaper. Outside of the biggest cities, many of the printed media only survive by means of state propaganda, which assures influence for both federal and state governments. This “carrot and stick” situation also obstructs objective coverage.
Generally speaking, Mexico’s television market is shared by the Televisa and TV Azteca networks. The former clearly gets the most significant benefits. Televisa owns the main cable TV supplier, Cablevisión. The Azcárraga family, linked to PRI for decades, holds the majority of shares in Televisa. TV Azteca, founded in the 1990s as a result of the privatization of two highly indebted channels, belongs to Ricardo Salinas Pliego. About 65 percent of concessions, along with 70 percent of commercial profits, fall on these two companies, which hold the majority of the 465 commercial television frequencies.
The remaining 257 additional suppliers are state-directed and provide educational and cultural content. Currently, a debate exists around the possibility of issuing licenses for the establishment of a third national broadcasting television network. This initiative has been strongly resisted by the “main actors,” who have used every resource available. At the federal level, only channels 11 and 22 enjoy national broadcasting, while inside the states the state-owned channels are opinion generators only because people lack alternatives.
While this happens, television constitutes the main information and publicity medium on which much political-institutional and party propaganda are concentrated. During the 2006 presidential campaign, parties invested 82 percent of their extensive budgets in spots in Televisa and TV Azteca. Around 80 percent of Mexicans are reached daily by television programs, followed by 70 percent reached by radio. The contents of television programming are mainly focused on entertainment, dominated by the popular soap operas (telenovela), talk shows, and sports programs. News programs have a place of their own, but most of the time local and regional events of minor importance are overemphasized. Most of the content – 61 percent – is from Mexico, with 31 percent American, and between 2 and 5 percent Latin American and Japanese. Based on the research of José Carlos Lozano, from Tecnológico de Monterrey, Europe’s presence in the programming is only 0.4 percent. Rating is most important – and here public broadcasters are at a disadvantage.
In radio, there are 1,164 commercial channels, 306 of which are state-owned and have educational content. The latter are financed by the budget held by the Ministry of Public Education or by universities. However, the number of channels cannot be compared with the variety of programs. Like television, commercial radio is dominated by certain networks, such as Radiorama, ACIR, Grupo Radio Centro, and Cima Somer, to which more than 100 stations belong. This is possible because there are no limits on the concentration of media ownership.
Just like in the rest of Latin America, the noncommercial sector of audiovisual media is both underdeveloped and underfinanced. This sector is made up of channels that, in one way or another, are under the direct influence of the state. This is why it is impossible to talk about open structures that guarantee freedom. These qualities do not apply to the NOTIMEX news agency eithe). What is more, public broadcasting depends on state subsidies for it cannot profit from advertising. Instituto Mexicano de la Radio, Radio Educación, and a broadcasting system for 13 million Mexicans with indigenous origins share radio stations – the latter broadcasts its programs in some of the 62 indigenous languages of Mexico.
An alternative medium of information is represented by what is referred to as “community radio,” the survival of which is made difficult due to legislative conditions. These radio broadcasters lack state funding and do not have access to the commercial market. Such a situation has resulted in the illegal operation of many stations.
Problems And Trends
The current reform to the Ley Federal de Radio y Televisión (Radio and Television Act), which dates from 1960, was the result of intense debates within the Supreme Court of Justice, which reversed some of the Act’s establishments. In general terms, only Mexicans can be the owners of broadcasting concessions, with the exception of the churches and the political parties. Commercial suppliers get licenses and other suppliers get broadcasting permits. Those who supported the initial reform argued that the participation of Mexico in technological development depended on it. Most of this was related to triple plays, which is the interconnection of television with telephone and Internet services.
However, this modification and its almost unanimous and immediate approval in the electoral year of 2006 were referred to as the “Ley Televisa” (Televisa Act). The objections of experts, important civil organizations, and media associations and federations were completely ignored. The preference for commercial networks became clear when 20-year concessions (internationally uncommon) were granted to them. Also uncontrolled, nearly automatic extensions and access to new media services were granted. Even more, it is possible that the commercial networks benefited from their strong economic position, for new licenses were to be called for bid and then granted to the highest offer. These parliamentary actions demonstrated to Mexican society the power held today by the electronic media.
Complaints were expressed by 47 senators from the main political parties. After the Supreme Court declared in June 2007, surprisingly, that the Act was unconstitutional, the senators and the representatives had to retake and reconsider the issue. For the Justices of the Court, the radio spectrum is a “common good” that should be organized in accordance with the standards of plurality and freedom of expression and information. One of the central questions in the upcoming reforms will be how the autonomy of the Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (COFETEL, the Federal Telecommunications Commission) should be guaranteed, how their members are to be appointed, and how the legislative branch can ensure its right to participate. Currently, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Transportation is in charge of granting and managing the frequencies. The lack of transparency, the climate of favoritism, and the direct influence from the executive branch are among the most highly criticized aspects of the conservation of this process.
New Media And The Internet
Mexican youth in particular began to use the Internet as an alternative medium. Based on current figures, around 15 percent of Mexicans have access to the web. Social differences are also reflected here. What is more, cable television offers are pluralist – both the Congress and the Supreme Court have a channel of their own and international suppliers have a presence in several channels – but only a reduced number of Mexicans can afford them. Most of the population has to turn to the abovementioned channels and thus plurality is restricted.
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