Friday, December 08, 2006

Mexico City: Calderón puts the strong arm on the media

Raymundo Riva Palacio, writing in El Universal, sheds some light on new Mexican President Felipe Calderón's strategy in dealing with the media. And it does make one a bit, er, uncomfortable. Firmly would be a nice way to put it; strong-arm would be less charitable but still descriptive.

First, Riva Palacio says, Calderón notified Televisa president Emilio Azcárraga that the president would not deal with nor have any communications with Televisa's "powerful" vice president, Bernardo Gómez. And that included "never in the future taking a phone call" from the television executive. Exactly why the bad blood between Calderón and Gómez, I don't know, and Riva Palacios does not shed any light on that, either. It might be nothing more than the president of the republic making it known that he doesn't deal with company vice presidents. Kind of re-establishing protocol.

But, Riva Palacios says, Gómez is cleaning out his office and the moving van is being filled with his personal effects. Final destination: unknown. That doesn't sound like a protocol adjustment to me.

Riva Palacios charges that ex-President Vicente Fox was "on his knees before Gómez and Televisa," and that Calderón does not intend to play the game that way. Riva Palacio does, however, add that the new president's transition team considered a guy named Javier Lozano as Secretary of Comminication and Transportation, who would oversee the media. Lozano has been a vociferous critic of the recently passed set of media regulations, referred to derisively in many quarters as "La Ley Televisa", because it favors and promotes the existing Mexican media monopolies at the expense of any new players, especially if they be furriners. Lozano was ultimately named Secretary of Labor.

Riva Palacios also says that, on the day of the swearing-in ceremony at the Cámara de Diputados, when Calderón's entourage approached the rear of the chamber, security vehicles cut off the press vehicles so that they could not follow and record his entry into the building. This was done, Riva Palacio hints, to avoid the reporting of any possible trouble at the rear entrance to the chamber. If you will recall, the Deputies had been engaging in daily fistfights and riots as the PRD (AMLO) deputies repeatedly tried to storm the dais which the PAN deputies were defending. They also had been actively engaged for some days in fighting over control of the entrances to the chamber.

Riva Palacio hints that Calderón's people feared another scrum when he tried to enter the chamber and didn't want it recorded for all posterity. Riva Palacios says that the next occurrence was more ominous. He says that Calderón's people "gave a script" to the television media, instructing them to avoid any transmission of events inside the chamber which might make the event look anything other than a peaceful and ordinary event that takes place every siz years.

Riva Palacio says that there was an implied threat that broadcasting licenses could be forfeited if things went badly for Calderón in the chamber and those events were televised. I don't know about that. Below are two films of Calderón taking the presidential oath. The first one is from a private, unauthorized, hand-held video camera. The second is from the official recording of the event as shown on national television networks.

This is a private video made during the swearing in ceremony.

This is the official version

I don't see, or more specifically, I don't hear too much difference between the two. The difference is that in the private video, the cameraperson pans the chamber during Calderón's oath and you can see what you are already hearing, many deputies cheering and many deputies whistling and booing. You can also see a guy in a bright yellow jacket and sombrero having an exchange of ideas and opinions with some people behind him.

Now, here's a third look, which is also from the authorized source, and it is more like the first, unauthorized video. There are some shots of the deputies in some disarray and there is also a shot of a cameraman with a portable video camera doing nothing but taping the noisy crowd inside the chamber. What became of his video, I do not know. In addition, while introducing the video, Joaquín López-Dóriga of Televisa states quite clearly that Calderón arrived to take the oath "amid the confrontation between PANistas and PRDistas."

Ceremony as braodcast on Televisa

Riva Palacio says that the only audio that was permitted was that which came from the microphone in front of Calderón. After watching and listening to the 3 vidoes above, that audio doesn't leave much to the imagination. Riva Palacio, however, refers to it as "asceptic". He says that Calderón's transition team has adopted the attitude of ex-president José López Portillo, who once, after shutting down some radio and television outlets, snapped, "I don't pay you just so you can slap me around."

I'm not sure that I can agree with the opinion of Riva Palacio, but he is a lot closer to the movers and shakers in the Mexican government and the Mexican media than I. This bears watching. And this bear's watching, too.

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