Mexicans Protest Ties Between Politics, Media
Movement Says Two Networks Are Acting To Return Ex-Ruling Party to Presidency
The Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Casey
MEXICO CITY—Thousands of students are joining a growing street-demonstration movement to protest Mexico’s top two television networks, which they accuse of colluding to secure the leading presidential candidate’s election this summer.
Across the capital, as well as several other cities, university students in recent days have rallied against what they say is an effort by the country’s television duopoly—Grupo Televisa SAB and TV Azteca SAB—to back the candidate of Mexico’s former ruling party.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ruled Mexico with a velvet hand and an iron fist for 71 years until it was voted out of power in 2000, but is now favored to regain power.
While the students, who were set to march again Wednesday night, have made the media coverage their rallying cry, they also are airing concerns about the return of the PRI—the party of their parents and grandparents.
The marches signal the first apparent threat to PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s expected victory during an otherwise muted campaign. Televisa, which at first largely dismissed the protests as the work of leftist radicals, has now had to report them on its nightly newscasts.
“The protest movement has already achieved the impossible: forcing Televisa to cover an insurrection by young people,” political analyst Sergio Aguayo wrote on Mexico’s Animal Politico website this week. “The campaign now enters into unpredictable territory.”
The protests highlight what has become the election’s major controversy: A perception that the two companies that control Mexican television are using their muscle to back Mr. Peña. Televisa and TV Azteca control broadcasts to some 95% of Mexican homes, a dominance that has been questioned by Mexican regulators in the past. It remains to be seen whether the next leader will finally open the system.
The two broadcasters have already weighed into politics this year. Last month, TV Azteca’s boss Ricardo Salinas Pliego caused an uproar when he announced the station would not to air the first presidential debates and instead ran a soccer game. The executive eventually relented and aired the debate on one of his minor channels.
Mr. Peña married a Televisa soap opera star and throughout the campaign the network has frequently given him fawning coverage, critics say.
During the PRI’s long run in power, Televisa largely acted as the party’s propaganda arm. The company’s longtime chairman, the late Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, once famously said he was “a soldier of the PRI.”
His son, Televisa’s current Chairman Emilio Azcárraga Jean, has said publicly that he values the students’ opinions. A Televisa official said in an email that the broadcaster hasn’t manipulated information about the candidates and that coverage had been monitored by the government electoral body and is “perfectly fair.”
TV Azteca declined to comment. Its chief, Mr. Salinas Pliego, said on his blog this month during the controversy after his initial refusal to broadcast the presidential debate that “our position and commitment is consistent with the tastes of our audience, along with [Mexico's] election law.”
The election watchdog, called IFE, ensures that networks give equal time to major candidates, but doesn’t measure content.
Mr. Peña’s campaign manager, Luis Videgaray, said Mr. Peña believed in creating an independent, citizen-run media watchdog charged with regulating campaign advertising. “Television is one more area where Mexico has a chronic problem of lack of competition,” he said, saying the candidate wished to open up the sector to more competition.
Ahead of the July 1 vote, Mr. Peña has 46% support versus 26% for Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, and 24.6% for Josefina Vazquez Mota of the governing National Action Party, according to an average of six surveys from different polling companies compiled by pollster Consulta Mitofksy.
Mr. Peña, a young ex-state governor, has been cast as the new face of the PRI. But many Mexicans still mistrust the party and worry the PRI’s return will hurt their young democracy.
The protests began on May 11, when a group of students at the Universidad Iberoamericana, an elite private college in the capital, booed Mr. Peña during an appearance there, shouting “Get out, get out.” Mr. Peña quickly exited the university followed by a crowd of chanting students.
Mr. Peña’s backers in the PRI soon suggested that the protesters weren’t students but were organized by Mr. López Obrador, the leftist candidate. The theory was soon repeated by Televisa anchors.
In response, 131 students from the university uploaded videos on Facebook identifying themselves as students. Soon afterward new protests were being organized on social networks under the hashtag #yosoy132, or “I am No. 132,” a name meant to suggest those using it were joining the original group.
On Friday, several hundred students held demonstrations outside of Televisa’s broadcasting compounds in two parts of the city.
On Saturday the protests ballooned to an estimated 46,000 people who marched from Mexico’s main plaza and shut down Paseo de la Reforma, the capital’s central avenue, carrying signs that linked the broadcaster and Mr. Peña and assorted other slogans against his party. While many were students, they were joined by others including supporters of Mr. López Obrador and members of hacking activist group Anonymous. Ms. Vazquez Mota urged her supporters to take the streets to prevent the PRI’s return. Similar marches were held in 16 other cities across Mexico.
Initially, Televisa criticized the student efforts to rally support online. On an evening roundtable show this month, Televisa anchor Carlos Loret de Mola said protests on Twitter had been organized by Mr. Lopez Obrador and “didn’t show reality.” By the time the protests reached Televisa’s doorstep this weekend, the network aired eight-minute report on the events, without commentary.
On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen students from universities around Mexico City gathered in a cafe to discuss the recent protests. While many described themselves as left-leaning, they insisted that real target were the television stations.
Time and again, they said, there had been sharp differences in coverage of Mr. Peña in new media like Twitter and the old media TV conglomerates. “In this country, it’s the television that elects presidents and they were protecting [Mr. Peña],” says Carlos Brito, 24, a journalism student in Mexico City.
The students also railed against the decision by TV Azteca not to broadcast the presidential debates, seen by many as an opportunity for the other candidates to cut into Mr. Peña’s lead.
“They essentially said: ‘I can do what I want with your TV,’ and half of Mexico that is plugged into TV Azteca couldn’t stop him,” says Andrés Torres, 20, an international relations student at the Iberoamerican University.
Many students from outside of Mexico City where the television market is nearly controlled by the two companies said they had trouble explaining to their parents why they had been protesting due to the negative coverage their gatherings had received from the stations.
Antonio Jiménez, a 25-year-old student of international relations at Mexico’s La Salle University complained that as a child in the southern state of Campeche he only had access to either Televisa or TV Azteca. “Both seem to support the same party,” he said