Journalist’s firing sparks debate on censorship and media concentration in Mexico

By Monica Medel

The controversial decision to sack an award-winning Mexican radio host for commenting on allegations that President Felipe Calderón is an alcoholic has prompted protests and opened a debate on the relationship between concentrated media ownership and politically-motivated censorship.

The president says he had nothing to do with MVC Radio’s decision to fire Carmen Aristegui, but the journalist had directly accused him of pressuring the station to do so. The incident has prompted a groundswell of support for Aristegui – including online attacks from the “hacktivist” group anonymous on MVC’s stie – and brings to mind the subtle means of censorship used during the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ended in 2000.

The relationship between journalists and political power has not changed much, and the central issue continues to be the concessions that can be made to appease the presidency,” said award-winning Mexican journalist Martha Anaya, quoted by the AFP.

To veteran journalist Jacobo Zabludovsky, one of Mexico’s first TV news anchors, the root of the debate is over “who will decide what is said on the radio and television in Mexico.” In an editorial for El Universal titled “The right to speak,” he pointed out that broadcast licenses are subject to rules that make owners responsible for any opinion that is aired on a station. The punishments range from fines to having the licenses revoked.

In Mexico, ownership of broadcast TV, and to a lesser extent radio, are highly concentrated in a few hands. According to Raúl Trejo, the president of the Mexican Right to Information Association (AMDI), “Televisa and TV Azteca control 94 percent of the television entertainment content” in the county, while the most powerful radio networks are owned by a dozen families, BBC Mundo adds.

In this sense, the National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS) argues that “the Aristegui case has opened the debate on the relationship between the media and political power, the media’s ethics, and their transparency, as well as the labor relationship between owners and journalists in Mexico.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.