Thousands protest in Mexico against telecommunications bill

By Samantha Badgen

On Saturday April 26, around 7,000 people formed a human chain in front of Mexico’s Senate in protest of a new proposed communications bill that President Enrique Peña Nieto presented last Monday.​

The bill, which would complement the federal telecommunications and radio broadcasting law that has been in effect since 1995, is being tauted as having the objective of balancing the relationship between telecom giants and smaller businesses, but the text of the bill has drawn strong criticism for certain articles that would give the executive branch the power to control media content.

Peña Nieto said he wants to encourage pluralism and fight against the media monopoly that America Móvil and Televisa represent. However, some fear that the bill would also threaten the independence of the autonomous Federal Institute of Telecommunications and would grant the executive branch the power to temporarily block telecommunications signals.

According to the bill, these powers would only be granted for use in extreme cases when there is an urgent public safety concern, but they have no precedent and they worry some groups and citizens, who see it as a potential threat to press freedom.

“Reporters Without Borders is concerned at the danger to the fundamental ban on censorship guaranteed by article seven of the Mexican constitution,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the organization’s Americas desk, in a press release. “The principle of editorial neutrality guaranteed under the constitution should not be ignored in the new bill. The organization is particularly worried that the government will have the right under article 197 to block access to content, applications or services regarded as endangering national security. This article’s lack of precision leaves the door open for prior censorship. Where do you draw the line between an attack on national security and a news story in the public interest?”

Freedom of information activists protested against the bill, which they consider an attack on users' basic rights that would censor internet content and favor the large telecom companies that currently dominate the market. The protest happened a few days after Peña Nieto defended the initiative, saying it was a key project to offer technologies to startup companies and improve competitiveness and innovation in the telecommunications sector.

Faced with controversy and protests, in which several citizens reported police repression, the government promised to modify the more controversial parts of the document -- like those having to do with censoring or blocking the internet -- and insisted that the bill was proposed with no intention of infringing of the rights of Mexican citizens.

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.