Having taken on elements of the News Corp mass media empire run by Rupert Murdoch, involving the UK newspaper division of News International, linked to the phone hacking scandal, the Guardian is at the centre of a fresh furore. This time the target is the Televisa group in Mexico, which has about 70 percent of the television audience in the country and is the largest mass media company in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world.

The controversy surrounds the accusation of alleged collusion between Televisa and Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in the forthcoming July elections, who is also the current frontrunner according to opinion polls. Specifically, the allegations have derived from the freelance correspondent, Jo Tuckman, in an article on 7 July, claming ‘dirty tricks’ in the race for the presidency. Documents apparently reveal the Televisa network to have both favoured Peña Nieto ahead of the presidential elections on 1 July and smeared the left-leaning candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), currently second in the polls, who also narrowly lost the 2006 election.

Rewind. In 2006, it should be recalled that the presidential election led to the victory of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate, Felipe Calderón, by an official margin of 0.56 percent of the vote, or no more than 238,000 votes, against the candidacy of López Obrador of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). There is widespread accord on the evidence of electoral fraud consisting of the double-counting of pro-Calderón precincts; collusion between PRI and PAN governors; and highly suspect processes of political corruption charged against the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and suspect processes of electoral review conducted by the Federal Electoral Tribunal  (TRIFE) as the supreme electoral authority. The political landscape then witnessed López Obrador embarking on a populist bid to energise protest against the outcome of the 2006 election as the ‘Legitimate President’ and ignite a social movement dynamic of support for his AMLO campaign with such currents having ongoing import and relevance.

Even further back, turning to PRI-history, it should be recalled that over the more than 70 years of PRI rule el dedazo (the finger-tap) characterised Mexican dynastic presidential succession. This meant that the incumbent president of the PRI handpicked the party’s candidate, with the decision often based on personal preference, little consultation, and an announcement with no veto or ex ante consensus. The president would then build a consensus in favour of the designee who would be unquestionably announced and elected. As Jorge Castañeda explains in Perpetuating Power: How Mexican Presidents are Chosen (2000), ‘the purpose of the Mexican elections, at least until 1994, would not be to pick a president among several aspirants, but to ratify and legitimise a decision already made.’ It appears that el dedazo is back but this time in the guise of Televisa. Indeed, in the 1990s, the network’s chief acknowledged that it was ‘a solider of the PRI’.

Fast forward. In the present, the Guardian claims to possess documents, available online including a PowerPoint presentation and spreadsheets, that reveal:

  • fees apparently charged for raising Peña Nieto’s national profile when he was governor of the state of Mexico;
  • a detailed media strategy explicitly designed to torpedo the previous presidential bid by López Obrador; and
  • payment arrangements suggesting that the office of former president Vicente Fox concealed exorbitant public spending on media promotion.

Following the Televisa Group’s rebuke, the Guardian produced a statement on the authenticity of the documents.

Pause. What does this scandal say about democratisation in Mexico? Media bias in Mexico has become a central theme of the current presidential election campaign and media experts in the country have long pointed out a serious problem of transparency in public spending on political propaganda. Elements of this discontent have fuelled the ongoing YoSoy132 movement, as highlighted in my earlier blog posts on this site. As I also argue in a detailed chapter on the political economy of democratisation in my book, Revolution and State in Modern Mexico, what needs to be questioned is the managed and measured institutional emergence of ‘democratic transition’ in Mexico. After all, democratisation in Mexico has never been sought at the expense of jeopardising elite class rule itself, which has always been more interested in maintaining the basic order of neoliberalism and controlling populist-based change.

Play. The intellectual Enrique Dussel, self-described as a ‘philosopher-participant’ of the #YoSoy132 movement, has argued in La Jornada, that there are three ‘questions’ to be put to the movement linked to the broader critique of media bias and democratisation in Mexico, whether:

  1. the movement can be defined as non-partisan and deeply political, meaning that the political form of candidates, government programs, national projects are all seen as necessary for democracy but without fetishising the political party;
  2. the condition of democracy can be understood as not only about the choice of candidate but also about ethical practice, entailing legitimacy without cynicism, corruption, or hypocrisy; and
  3. the electronic fraud of the past (in 2006 and before) can be prevented.

An additional factor that could be added is the need to avoid the separation of ‘politics’ and ‘economics’ so characteristic of liberal democracy, resulting in depoliticisation as the economic sphere is removed from broad political control. The next few weeks will bare witness as to whether the framing of democracy at the exclusion of material socio-economic demands will be questioned and if protests gathering against media bias in Mexico will be enough to shape corrupt free politics, or whether boundless and free corrupt politics will continue.

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