By RICARDO CASTILLO
How the press views the Mexican presidency has definitely changed in more than few ways since Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was sworn into office last December.
To begin with, AMLO established from the very beginning of his term his Monday-through-Friday press conferences, which start at 7 a.m. and end when they’re over, ranging in length from one to two hours. Whatever’s necessary to answer all questions.
This most unusual style of informing the public, however, has irked many journalists. For starter, it has sacked the ratings of many early morning radio and TV newscasts. Also, the press conferences tend to be, for the most part, a presidential monologue. More on this issue further down.
Despite exposure and coverage, the Mexican press was particularly eager to find out what the government budget for the press would be and how that money was going to be spread out. During the third millennium, the press budget has been copious, but ill-dispersed, with the lion’s share going mainly to former broadcasting giants Televisa and TV Azteca.
Well, the anxiously expected answer as to how much there is for the media – TV, radio and different print modes – is now public knowledge. On April 17 (smack dab in the middle of Easter Week, when most Mexicans are away on holiday), AMLO’s press secretary, Jesús Ramirez Cuevas, announced that the government’s publicity budget for the year would be a dismally low 4.711 billion Mexican pesos, as stated in the official 2019 budget. And this amount, he warned all media, would not change and no further allowances would be requested from Congress. The sum is 50 percent less than it was for 2018.
Of course, this was not good news for the media at large, and over the past week, criticism against the president has increased on all fronts on which he informs during the mañaneras (early morning) press conferences.
Press secretary Ramírez said that this amount would be distributed among the existing 2,052 radio stations, 665 television stations and registered print media, which amounts to 1,590 publications.
Ramírez said that the criteria by which the money will be dispersed will, in the case of broadcast media, be based on audience shares and ratings, and in the case of print media, be based on print runs and sales.
AMLO said that his administration will seek to disperse the money on a “horizontal” basis in order to avoid concentrating on some of media, “as has happened in the past,” when cash was bountiful and spread out unfairly, with television getting away with the bulk of the allotted budget.
During the mañanera press conference, Ramírez presented several charts showing how former Mexican President Felipe Calderón was initially granted a 6.694 billion peso budget, which skyrocketed by the end of his term to 11.98 billion pesos. During the presidency of his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, the initial budget was 9.239 billion but jumped to 11.906 billion by 2016.
These monies were distributed discretionally, according to a medium’s support for the administration, but AMLO said that under his administration, media representing all points of views will be treated equally.
Also, Ramírez pointed out that during a meeting with the Finance Secretariat, all Mexican media representatives agreed to lower their advertising rates by 10 percent.
Strangely enough, the press budget does not include any money for what AMLO has called “the blessed social media,” that is, for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or blogs. Many YouTubers and blog media understandably are upset and want a share of the budget. They are seeking inclusion. Perhaps they were axed out during the furious chopping of funds for the media to fit the custom suit of AMLO’S so-called “republican austerity.”
That’s more or less the gist of how things will be for the media in the upcoming year, and surely there’s going to be a lot of lobbying in Congress to improve the government’s publicity budget since it is already wreaking havoc in many publications which have laid off throngs of journalists and now are preparing for a difficult period as the electronic media keep cutting into their businesses.
Now, back to the subject of AMLO’s daily monologue, or soliloquy, as some conservative media have dubbed his morning harangues. I’ll mention just two of the many persons who feel they are being badmouthed and provoked by the president when he calls them “conservatives” and “hypocrites.”
On April 14, two Mexican journalists, David Moreno and Salvador Camarena, went to Austin to participate in the 12th Ibero-American Colloquium of Digital Journalism. Moreno is the editor of the Elephant Publishing Company-owned Animal Politico website in Mexico; Camarena is a columnist for the Bloomberg-owned daily El Financiero and is keenly associated to one of AMLO’s biggest foes, Claudio X. Gonzalez.
At the University of Texas colloquium, both Moreno and Camarena, who consider themselves unbiased journalists, complained if not of repression, at least of ill-treatment given the indisposition AMLO consistently demonstrates on a daily basis against those who criticize him, particularly if that criticism comes from a U.S.-owned enterprise. It must be said these are not the only conservatives in town.
Camarena bitterly denounced AMLO’s onslaughts, especially when he uses the sneering term “fifi” (snob). Camarena is quoted as saying that “these insults move us into an increasing polarization (within Mexico) since (AMLO) boasts a lot of money (he used the words “muchísimo dinero”), throngs of communication channels and a majority in both houses of Congress, plus the fact that he’s got a whole system moving in this, denigrating journalists.”
Moreno is quoted as saying: “If someone dares to ask a critical question, journalists attending the press conference whistle in protest. If you as the ‘wrong’ question.” On top, Moreno said that apparently the president has an entire army of YouTubers who blast out those who question AMLO.
Again, at the top of this article, I noted that with his mañanera press conference style, AMLO has changed the way Mexicans did journalism in the past. Now, some, like my two abovementioned colleagues, complain about “worrisome distortions” in the way freedom of the press is moving in Mexico.
Combine this complaint with the budget he presented and the perspective for the previously privileged Mexican press corps is not a good one.
Camarena, in his April 24 column in El Financiero, wrote:
“In today’s Mexico, there is no debate, and far from that, what is being imposed is a gross soliloquy. The soliloquy of the National Palace.”
Still, each soliloquy offers food for thought, and while AMLO has admonished many of his critics, unlike in the past, he’s not repressed anyone so far, other than by calling them “fifi.”