Mexico: did politicians pay off the TV giant Televisa?

In an article dated June 7, the British daily The Guardian said it had received documents apparently showing that Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa, was paid in 2005 to have its news and entertainment programs influence voters’ perceptions of various politicians. The documents are in the form of computer files given the paper by someone who formerly worked with Televisa.

One document is a PowerPoint presentation, dated Apr. 4, 2005, whose stated goal is to make sure center-left presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO“) “does not win the 2006 elections.” Other documents show payments to give prominence to Enrique Peña Nieto, who was then starting his 2005-2011 term as governor of México state. There are also documents indicating that while in office former president Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) had Televisa bill the government in ways that would conceal how much the presidency was paying the network, which the British paper calls “the largest media empire in the Spanish-speaking world.”

Two of the politicians in the Guardian’s story are the leading candidates in this year’s July 1 presidential election: former México state governor Peña Nieto is the candidate of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), while former Mexico City mayor López Obrador is again running as the candidate of a center-left coalition, after narrowly losing the 2006 election in the official count. The Guardian article appeared as Peña Nieto’s lead was slipping in the polls and students had started protesting the favorable coverage he had gotten from the media, principally Televisa and the second largest network, TV Azteca. After a slow start this year, López Obrador has moved into second place.

Televisa initially wouldn’t comment on the documents; later it dismissed them as forgeries. The Guardian said that it couldn’t authenticate the computer files but “extensive cross checks have shown that the names, dates and situations mentioned largely line up with events.” Several ideas proposed in the documents appeared later on Televisa programs. The paper posted one of the documents on its website on June 8, a budget for promoting Peña Nieto while he was governor. The Mexican magazine Proceso obtained and published a hardcopy version of the same budget in 2005; Peña Nieto and Televisa have always maintained that that it could be a forgery. (The Guardian, June 7)

Although Peña Nieto is still well ahead of López Obrador in most opinion polls, Mexico’s political class seems concerned about the possibility of a center-left candidate winning the presidency. On June 3 former president Fox threw his support behind Peña Nieto, deserting Josefina Vázquez Mota, the candidate of his own center-right National Action Party (PAN), who has fallen into third place. (Ironically, Fox’s election to the presidency in 2000 broke the PRI’s 71-year hold on the executive branch.) On June 9 the PRI tried to shift concerns about corruption to López Obrador: the party filed a complaint with the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) charging that the candidate was violating campaign financing laws by raising money through the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), a nonparty association he founded last year. (Milenio, Mexico, June 4; La Jornada, Mexico, June 10)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 10.

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