The new rules imposed by Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) in 2008 mean that political parties can’t simply buy up TV time as they used to. Instead, IFE allocates the spots and also sanctioned two nationally televised debates, the first of which took place this past Sunday.
Supposed frontrunner – although the polls are constantly being questioned – Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had already ducked out of two “unofficial” debates, citing his busy schedule. Then, the country’s two-headed corporate television monopoly, and PRI-aligned, Televisa/TV Azteca, refused to broadcast Sunday’s official debate on its principal channels, showing its renowned disdain for this whole “democracy” thing.
Televisa relegated the debate to one of its secondary channels; TV Azteca refused to show it altogether as it clashed with a football (soccer) playoff between Morelia’s Monarcas (owned by TV Azteca honcho Ricardo Salinas Pliego, no less) and Monterrey’s Tigres. Even in soccer-mad Latin America, something smelled rotten – IFE had notified the Mexican Football Federation of the debates months in advance. Sure, Azteca would pocket a small fortune off advertising revenue for the game and wouldn’t get a cent for showing the presidential debate, but this is Mexico’s most crucial election in years.
Between them, Televisa and TV Azteca dominate Mexico’s airwaves, sucking up some 98 per cent of the domestic audience share. Supposedly competitors, their combined agenda represents the 1 per cent of economic interests in a country where at least 52 million people live in poverty; 12 million in extreme poverty.
After the announcement, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO) of the Progressive Movement coalition appealed to the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) to invoke Article 62 of the Federal Radio & Television Law, which would oblige all open TV channels to broadcast the debate in the name of national importance. The right-wing incumbent National Action Party (PAN) joined in the call.
IFE, however, which had previously accused the networks of “sending a bad message to democracy”, rejected the petition, shaping it in terms of broadcaster “liberty”. The decision angered many, who labeled the institute cowardly, ineffective, or just plain guilty of favoring the PRI. The Interior Ministry could have forced the issue, but declined. Mexico City’s left-wing mayor Marcelo Ebrard – likely to succeed AMLO as PRD candidate in 2018 – announced the debate would be shown on giant screens in the capital’s main square, utilizing equipment already in place for a free Paul McCartney concert this Thursday.
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It’s all about protecting gaffe-prone PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, whom both Televisa and TV Azteca have been lavishing with praise for years. Ladies’ man Pena is a good-looking candidate, for sure, and the PRI is at least correct when it says that poverty, unemployment, and of course, violence, have soared under twelve years of the PAN. But the golden boy’s knack for butchering even the simplest sound-bite was starting to give his campaign team sleepless nights.