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LAS AMERICAS Agoraphobia in Mexico BY BARBARA BELEJACK Mexico City IHAVE NO IDEA what they pay Miguel Acosta, but whatever it is, it can’t be nearly enough. Acosta directs the media monitoring project for the Mexican Academy of Human governmental organizations affiliated with Alianza Civica, the umbrella group that serves as citizen watchdog for the upcoming elections. Since January he has been watching, analyzing and reporting on the political coverage of two commercial evening news broadcasts: 24 Horas, produced by media giant Televisa, and Hechos, the fledgling competition produced by Television Azteca, a former state-run network that was privatized in 1993. Acosta tapes everything, from the last fading minutes of the telenovelas that lead into the news, to the endless commercials for Pedro Domecq brandy. He tapes entire newscasts, which in the case of Televisa’s 24 Horas, include such newsworthy items as anchor Jacobo Zabludovsky’s dinner with officials of the Mexico City newspaper vendors’ union; Jacobo’s visit to the home of a 95-year-old vendor of a Televisa-owned tabloid; a Televisa soap star’s visit to war-torn Armenia \(despite electricity shortages the Televisa-owned Cultural Center for Contemporary Art; a new Televisa soap about the life and times of pre-Revolutionary dictator Porfirio Diaz \(a major news item New York Times article about the Porfirio Diaz telenovela; and the 25th anniversary of the moon landing \(lots of retrospective coverage of Jacobo and his then sidekick, Miguel Aleman, a former Televisa execuwere treated to the quintessential “24 Horas” news story when Lupita Jones, the first Miss Mexico to win the Miss Universe pageant, appeared on the set. Lupita arrived on the “24 Horas” set to promote a In a variation on the theme of the play Barbara Belejack is a freelance writer based in Mexico City. within the play or the novel within the novel, Lupita just happened to bring along a copy of the p.r. kit, allowing Jacobo and Televisa cameras to linger over the glossy brochures. FASCINATING as this may be, Acosta and his colleagues are only interested in coverage of the presidential elec toral campaign, which they analyze in the language of technocratsnumbers, pure and simple. They time and classify election-related stories according to a methodology developed by Acosta. Does the candidate appear in the opening summary of the broadcast? \(Ernesto Zedillo, the candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionalways appears in the opening summary. Moreover, news of his activities always leads the campaign coveras they watch his image, or do they listen to a reporter or anchor’s voiceover? Are the stories positive or negative? How much time do the candidates receive? \(This is tricky; there are nine presidential candidates, including a contingent of candidates with little popular support but significant government financing who serve as spoilers. They generally receive an undue amount of coverage and are used to convey negative images of the major opposition candidates, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the and Diego Fernandez de Cevallos of the After analyzing media coverage from January through May, Acosta and his team quantified what everyone already knew: Political reporting in Mexican television was heavily skewed in favor of the ruling PRI. ELECTION COVERAGE was much simpler in 1988; opposition candidates were never interviewed on tele vision. Even radio, considered a fairly open medium, limited its opposition coverage. The late Manuel Clouthier, 1988 presidential candidate for the PAN, complained that his party purchased political ads that were never aired. Clouthier also complained about Televisa and PANista-led demonstrators to the network’s Mexico City headquarters, but as protests against the 1988 electoral election faded, so did protests against Televisa. Mexico, which has never produced a consumer rights movement, was lured back into the land of pues asi es; ni modo. “There’s nothing you can do about it.” In 1994, however, the credibility of every institution is in doubt; the media are no exception. Despite the appearance of a combative, independent press, most newspapersincluding those that take great pride in their independent reportingcontinue to accept gacetillas, government advertising masquerading as news stories. Self-censorship, rather than direct government interference, remains the major problem with the written press. At the same time, journalists canand doprint just about anything. There is a far wider spectrum of opinion in Mexican newspapers than in the mainstream U.S. press. But as journalist and critic Carlos Monsivais explained six years ago, “There is freedom of opinion. But what we don’t have is freedom of information.” His analysis is just as relevant today. Every week the editor of the Tijuana newspaper Zeta prints an accusation against the son of Carlos Hank Gonzalez, Mexico’s powerful agriculture minister. The younger Hank is suspected of ordering the 1988 murder of Zeta co-founder and editor Hecinvestigative weekly Proceso and the newspaper El Financiero printed a letter to President Salinas from a former journalist and government official who is in self-proclaimed exile in Washington. He implicated a current cabinet member and other high officials in drug trafficking. So far the government has not seen fit to respond; the rest of the press has failed to pick up the storyprecisely the kind of story that Mexican political elite will read in a handful of national newspapers. But most people get their news ‘from television. According to AMDH, 67 percent rely on television for their news \(and 65 percent believe that coverage is biased nipresent. “People live glued to the television set,” as journalist Epigmenio Ibarra has written of his travels through small towns, villages and ranches. “Television 16 AUGUST 19, 1994