Mexican president denies releasing list of journalists and media who received government advertising

A list of 36 journalists who allegedly benefited from advertising contracts with the administration of former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, which was published on May 23 by the newspaper Reforma, came from a citizen information request and was not disseminated by the presidency, according to current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The president also clarified that the list revealed by Reforma is incomplete, since the information request to the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI, for its initials in Spanish) only asked for information concerning columnists and journalists who received contracts, and not about the total expenditure for official advertising from the Peña Nieto government.

"Truthfully, we did not disclose the names of those who receive, or received, this support for informative works, this had to do with other agencies, if they made the names known," said López Obrador after being questioned about the issue at his morning press conference on May 24. "We only delivered this information to the Institute for Transparency, that’s it, and we did not disclose the names."

The list revealed by Reforma mentions the names of 36 journalists and communication companies that received contracts during the administration of Peña Nieto for a total amount of 1,081,715,991 pesos (about US $57 million). It does not include large media companies such as Televisa, TV Azteca or radio groups, which also benefited from Peña Nieto's official advertising spending, according to what Reforma published in 2018.

Among the journalists mentioned in the list are popular radio and television presenters such as Joaquín López Dóriga, Paola Rojas, Adela Micha, Martha Debayle, Óscar Mario Beteta and José Cárdenas, among others.

Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, spokesman for the Presidency, said that full information about the advertising contracts for the previous administration will be announced shortly, given that there are more than 50 requests for such information, which they are working on now.

"Here we said at the time that we did not want it to be thought that (the dissemination of this information) was our response to attacks, or questions, or legitimate criticism, no. It was done because citizens asked the Institute of Transparency for that information and the Institute of Transparency asked us for it, and we gave this information and said 'we are not going to reveal the names.’ I also clarified that advertising is legal. That is, all governments contract advertising. If name are now appearing in a newspaper, you have to look at who gave the information."

Daniel Moreno, general director of the news site Animal Político, who appears on the list of beneficiaries, clarified through his Twitter account that, in effect, the media outlet received official advertising contracts that represented less than 15 percent of its total income in the past six years, but clarified that these contracts did not imply purchase of content or editorial conditions.

"For some reason that I do not know, Presidency made the decision to include my name, not the company's, even though I did not receive any money, I do not have a site nor do I receive sales commission. As I have always said, I am a member of Editorial Animal and its legal representative. Nothing more," Moreno tweeted. "We have publicly advocated that rules be defined to distribute official advertising and that it is not subject to the discretion of any official. We will continue demanding it."

Various civil society organizations and journalists have called for reforms on how the government distributes official advertising, which many media outlets in the country are highly dependent upon.

In April 2017, López Obrador said his government would reduce spending on advertising by 50 percent, as EFE reported. Additionally, it was announced that the amount would be distributed more fairly to all media.

Enrique Krauze, columnist and director of Editorial Clío and of the magazine Letras Libres, who also appears on the list published by Reforma, wrote an explanatory note about the disseminated information, which he described as "biased and unfounded."

"Few cultural companies can live without official advertising. Letras Libres and Clío can do it, by diversifying their sources of income, especially national and foreign private advertisers," Krauze wrote. "Letras Libres does not modify its editorial line due to pressures. On our site, dozens of texts and covers critical of the previous governments can be consulted."

For its part, the INAI denied having disseminated the information revealed by Reforma and said that this request is in the process of being reviewed.

"The INAI is in the process of reviewing the information provided by the Obligated Subject, in this case the Office of the President of the Republic, and until now it can not be determined whether the information is complete or accurate, in accordance with what was requested by the requestor," the institute said in a statement.

The agency said it will verify that the information delivered to the requestor complies with the resolution issued on May 8, 2019, when the Presidency was ordered to give all information related to the name of all individuals and legal entities who received public funds for official advertising from 2012 to date.

In his press conference that same May 8, López Obrador said he had information that the Peña Nieto administration paid columnists for their informative services, the same columnists who now question his government, according to Animal Político.

"I do not disclose the data because I do not consider it healthy, but we know why that attitude, we have all the information. A lot of money was spent in the 'maiceo*', in the 'chayote*.’ So, that ended, they are upset and now they have financing from other parties and they surely have the order of being against us," the President said.

*Two terms used to describe the act of paying journalists or media in exchange for a specific kind of coverage.