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National Mexican television network Televisa, based in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, suffered a bomb attack on 25 March. No one was injured in the blast, which occurred in the wake of two other attacks in the same part of northern Mexico. On 19 March a car bomb explosion took place at the offices of the daily Expreso in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state. Expreso subsequently removed a statement on the attack from its website. The Durango home of Víctor Montenegro, editor of the weekly El Contralor, also faced a shooting attack during the night of 24 March. Televisa was hit by similar blasts in August 2010, though no injuries were caused.
It has become a game of “he said”, “she said”. But two recent scuttles that developed in Mexico over telecommunications and television channels are at the heart of freedom of expression and access to information debate in the country.
Last week it was announced that Televisa and TV Azteca, two large monopolies that dominate open television in Mexico, were trying to get into the quadruple play mobile business by offering broadband Internet access, and telephone with wireless capabilities. Last April, both companies, who together capture 98 per cent of the Mexican viewing public and are often seen as adversaries, bought 50 per cent of mobile phone company Iusacell.
Their aim was to revamp the company to compete with Mexico’s multibillionaire Carlos Slim, who owns the most powerful Mexican mobile phone service provider, Telcel. But last week the Mexican Commission of Competence issued an order that said the merge had been rejected, even after representatives of both TV Azteca and Televisa tried to influence the vote.
The dust on the case had barely settled when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD), issued a report on Monday that claimed that lack of competence, weak regulations and a permissive legal system has cost Mexican mobile users more than 29 billion USD in overcharges in the period 2005 to 2009. The edict by the international organisation rattled in Mexico. It was front page news in all the major national media. The release of the report led Slim, who is known for not being shy, to respond to the statement at a press conference on Wednesday, calling the OECD information “false and misleading”.
To say that Mexico loses 25 billion dollars in overcharges for mobile usage is wrong. (…) Even if they use the income we earn from Telcel or Telmex, [the fixed line company that is also a monopoly controlled by Slim] the figures are wrong because both companies only sell 17 billion dollars a year.
The OECD did something it never does, and responded to Slim. It said Slim’s companies were aware of what was going to be said in the OECD report and that his employees were part of the consultations. It also refuted what Slim said, arguing that it was wrong to compare what the mobile and telephone market has lost in Mexico (because of lack of opportunity to compete) with the total amounts of sales and services from Slim’s companies.
The debate over the television channels and the cellphone problems is still on the sidelines. The decision will probably be left for the next president who will be elected this July and take office at the end of the year. Till then, these two issues, both of which have a large impact on the rights of Mexican citizens to an open market, impact freedom of expression by limiting the access to an open debate over public airwaves.
Two journalists, José Luis Cerda Meléndez and Luis Emanuel Ruíz Carrillo, have been murdered in the northern state of Nuevo León. Cerda was a television host on national channel Televisa, which has been subjected to several armed attacks. Ruíz was a reporter for a daily newspaper in Coahuila. Ruíz was visiting the area to interview Cerda. They were both forced into a car outside the Televisa station, along with Juan Roberto Gómez, Ruíz’s cousin . The bodies of Ruíz and Cerda were discovered the next day by the freeway, accompanied by a note which read: “Stop co-operating with Los Zetas. Signed DCG. Greetings architect No. 1”. Two criminals have now allegedly stolen Cerda’s body. The police have declined to intervene.
It is hard to get shocked with Mexico’s daily news. But earlier this month viewers of Televisa, Mexico´s largest television network, were treated to a salacious news story: a well-known drug trafficker accusing Ricardo Ravelo, one of Mexico’s top police reporters who works for the magazine Proceso, of demanding USD 50,000 to stop writing about him. Sergio Villarreal Barragán, “El Grande”, or the big man, an enforcer for the Beltran Leyva drug clan who entered the protected witness system in Mexico, was shown on a video clip telling Mexican police how Ravelo and Proceso received money from drug traffickers. The video clip of the interview in which he makes the charges with the television network. The segment was aired on Wednesday without getting a response from Ravelo.
The journalist replied to the accusations the next morning, during an interview with radio personality Carmen Aristegui. In the interview Ravelo, an expert on drug trafficking, says the accusations are false and went one step further by accusing Televisa of working jointly with the government of Felipe Calderon. Last week, the magazine made accusations that the late Secretary of Interior Juan Camilo Mouriño had cut a deal with the top drug trafficker Joaquin “el chapo” Guzman of the Sinaloa Cartel. They said their sources were in the Mexican protected witness program.
The fight has many battle fronts: one is confrontation between the pro-establishment Televisa television network and Proceso magazine, a leftist publication that started the media revolution in this country in 1976, as a response to the one party system. Neither of these news organisations look eye to eye. The other is the fact that Ravelo and the magazine Proceso often use documents filtered to them by sources in the government that quote protected witnesses, and accuse prominent people in the country of misdeeds and collaborations with drug traffickers without further evidence. Ravelo often uses as sources protected witnesses who are former drug traffickers, as in the case of Villareal.
In a country where proving accusations is often difficult for the government and especially for the press, using protected witnesses as sources has become more difficult after this media spat. However, the country has sophisticated access to information laws, but the government often does not release any information on security issues. And discussion over the drug war is divided along political lines drafted between leftist and rightist politics. The discussion over the drug war, and attacks against enterprising journalist like Ravelo could become the norm in the future.