Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mexican media's balancing act

Since I began contributing to Borderland Beat, I've realized that source gathering is much more difficult than I could have imagined. Stories from different publications will often have conflicting accounts of the same events, and it seems this isn't always due to fears of the cartel. Below is an article from Al-Jazeera, which has recently been making a name for itself as an anti-establishment publication. Some believe the dismissal of Aristegu was justifiable, perhaps even trivial, while others believe it speaks to the Mexican government's tendency to push its own narrative in the media.

By: John Holman

"Out Calderon out!" shouts the woman, part of the crowd jostling around a cultural centre in Mexico City.

As she joins the chants of the protesters against Mexico's president, she waves a photograph of a smiling woman above her head.

The woman in the photograph is Carmen Aristegui, one of Mexico's most easily recognisable journalists. Famed for her investigative reporting and all-star interview shows, Aristegui held a prime time slot with radio station MVS, where multitudes of Mexicans listened to her on their way to work.

All this changed last Friday when Aristegui addressed an issue long-discussed on the Mexico City social media rumour mill: President Felipe Calderon's supposed problem with alcohol.

Private speculation had raised its head publicly when lawmakers unfurled a banner last week in Congress bearing the legend: "Would you let a drunk drive your car? No, right? So why would you let one drive your country?"

In her radio show, Aristegui insisted that the presidency should reply to the implied accusation. "Does the president or does he not have an alcohol problem?" she asked. "The presidency should give a clear and formal answer with respect to this."

By the next Monday, Aristegui was clearing her desk, fired by MVS who said that she had broken their code of conduct by "broadcasting rumour as news".

The Mexican presidency has denied that it had anything to do with the sacking of Aristegui, but the resulting maelstrom has caused many to question the close relationship between government and the media in Mexico.

Aristegui herself claimed that the Mexican government pressured the radio station for her head. As her supporters gathered outside the cultural centre shouting slogans against the Mexican president, she gave a defiant performance within.

"An act like this is only imaginable in a dictatorship that nobody wants for Mexico: punishing for opining or questioning rulers," she said.

Subtle censorship

Top Mexican political analyst Sergio Aguayo says that government censorship of media is still widely practised in Mexico, but strong arm methods have been abandoned for a more subtle approach.

Something as fundamental as the right to broadcast for a TV or radio station can be a bargaining chip used by the state.

"According to the law, the government has the power of awarding licences to radio or TV stations and that has been part of the strings of power that presidents use, to give favours to those who work with them or to show their anger against journalists or politicians that are overly critical," Aguayo told Al Jazeera.

Aristegui herself alleged that the fact that MVS radio's licence was up for renewal was a key factor in her dismissal.

As well as power over licences, advertising revenue from the federal government makes up a large part of the income of many major Mexican media outlets, according to Ricardo Gonzalez of Article 19, a London-based freedom of expression group. In some cases media outlets rely so heavily on these advertising contracts that they risk bankruptcy if the government decides to withdraw them.

In 2009, the federal government spent over $160m in their public relations strategy, including adverts taken out in media. This amount doubled from 2005, according to government figures.

Following floods in the south of the country in 2007, Calderon alone appeared in 449 advertising "pots" on different television and radio broadcasters in just one week, according to figures from Article 19.

Gonzalez says members of the media worry about losing their slice of the lucrative government advertising pie to such an extent that, rather than await the call telling them they have strayed into territory that is deemed to be out of bounds, they effectively censor themselves to avoid incurring the government's wrath.

This leads many media to have an unspoken blacklist of subjects that they will not speak about for fear of offending the powers that be, says Gonzalez. For journalists, breaking the editorial line could mean losing your job, he adds.

Many media outlets seem more concerned about their government-based incomes than their staff, Gonzalez opined.

The row over Aristegui's comments eventually culminated in President Calderon's private secretary stepping out to deny the presidency's involvement in Aristegui's sacking and defend the president's state of health. Without directly addressing the original accusation of alcoholism, Roberto Gil said that Calderon's high rate of public appearances was proof of his well being.

"During the four years of his administration, he has never missed any event because of health problems," Gil said. "This work pace is the best proof of his good health, physical strength and integrity."

Whether freedom of expression in Mexican media enjoys such good health is still up for debate.


  1. This is a issue among Journalists pop off at the president get fired thus will and does happen around the world hope the jesture was worth it. What a scoop,this story surley helped Mexico,DUH , the only people impressed were fellow journalist, with another issue to moan about.

  2. If Calderon is an alcoholic, I don't blame him. How else is the guy supposed to get any sleep at night these days?

    But his government chronies pressured the station to demand that she read an apology on the air and she refused to do so. She asked a legitimate question about the President's health.

    But in the Mexican culture such a personal health question of a public figure, coming from a woman no less, is an insulting slap in the face. Like "When did you stop beating your wife?"

    FWIW I think she was reinstated to her position this week, so people are pretty happy that the intimidation by the govt and Calderon didn't work.

  3. Mexican representative Gustavo Gonzalez Mexican representative Gustavo Gonzalez Hernandez, who heads the national security committee in the country’s house of representatives, said U.S. aid in fighting the drug war should focus on reducing consumption and not by fighting the war on Mexican soil.

    “If the U.S. explains to its people that it is a joint problem, that it’s not the Mexicans who invented drugs and brought them to their country,” he said. “A demand evolved and a structure began that includes production and transportation.”

    I wonder how many body guards Mexican representative Gustavo Gonzalez Hernandez has and how much money he has not what he gets paid but the truth, 2 American agents where there to assist the Mexican people and where executed.

    Gustavo, I use to know one they called him the LOCO, he has been dead over 1 year, he talked to much. Mr Hernandez don't want to see your dirty hand looking for US money, no respect these 2 men where here to help not sell drugs, PUTO

  4. Carmen Aristegui, Would you let a drunk drive your car? No, right? So why would you let one drive your country?" So Ms Carmen how many Mxicans do you think drink and maybe why? The President which no one wants to admit is fighting a war against his country and people, and maybe U never take a drink will be more able to fight the the bad guys in Mexico which are far more brutal than in Iraq, and all of the middle east. I would be drunk if I had to try his job God bless him for trying

  5. Some believe the dismissal of Aristegu was justifiable, perhaps even trivial, while others believe it speaks to the Mexican government's tendency to push its own narrative in the media.

    Like all border reporters are dead or pushing the NARC narrative in the media OUT of fear, what BullS*** are U selling. Your selling crap


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