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How Governments Misuse Advertising To Censor Media


The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has published a study on the misuse of government advertising to censor freedom of expression and information. Titled, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico, the research “demonstrates how Mexico’s federal and state governments deploy financial power to pressure media outlets and penalise critical reporting.”
The report is the third by CIMA in a series of studies on soft censorship or “indirect government censorship, includes a variety of actions intended to influence media – short of closures, imprisonments, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on journalists or media facilities.” The earlier reports were Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia’s Media and Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media.

“This report focuses primarily on financial aspects of official soft censorship: pressures to influence news coverage and shape the broad media landscape or the output of specific media outlets or individual journalists through biased, and/or non-transparent allocation or withholding of state/government media subsidies, advertising, and similar financial instruments,” says the publication’s executive summary.
Key findings are:
1. Allocation of massive governmental advertising in Mexico on partisan and political bases powerfully shapes media content. Federal and local officials take advantage of weak regulation to influence editorial content. Despite laws and recommendations that demand or encourage regulation, scant progress has been made to establish clear allocation criteria.
2. Many media outlets slant their coverage to obtain more advantageous advertising contracts. Some media owners are active partners in a corrupt symbiosis that rewards propaganda rather than ac curate news reporting.
3. Allocation of broadcast spectrum is a distinct soft censorship mechanism, used particularly to restrict community broadcasting.
4. A profound lack of transparency hinders understanding and reform of government advertising. Efforts to make federal advertising spending public have failed. Opacity also prevails at the state level; more than half of the states withhold details of their advertising allocations. And the majority of Mexican media outlets refuse to release fundamental data on audience or circulation.
5. Regulation of government advertising exists only regarding electoral campaigns, despite constitutional obligations and presidential promises. Article 134 (2007) of Mexico’s constitution barring propaganda in government advertising is often unenforced. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s July 2012 pledge to reform government advertising remains unfulfilled.
6. Arbitrary use of government advertising further concentrates media ownership and creates a false appearance of pluralism. It sustains so-called “pasquines”—multiple media outlets, especially among print media and on the Internet, that survive solely on government funds and have minimal actual audience.
7. The billions of pesos in government advertising that promote individual politicians or political party agendas with no proven positive impact on public debate are effectively subsidies for favoured media outlets. About 12 billion pesos (905 million USD) is spent by the federal and state governments on advertising each year absent any clear indication that the advertising reaches target groups or is effective.
8. Directly corrupt practices persist in most of Mexico, including offering typically poorly-paid journalists bribes—known colloquially as “chayote”—to influence their reporting, as well as other payments allegedly made to editors, owners, and publicists.
Click hereto read the full report in English.

Mexico Targets Journalists Covering Protests

Police attack protestors in Mexico (Pic. courtesy  Article 19)


Writing on October 23, as Mexico came under the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the New York-based human rights watchdog Freedom House referred to, “[t]he continued violence against journalists in Mexico and ongoing threats to freedom of expression posed by organized crime, widespread insecurity, and endemic corruption and impunity. In framing their questions and recommendations, UNHRC member states should prioritize concerns about freedom of expression, as violence against journalists and human rights defenders, undermines all Mexicans’ fundamental rights.”
This trend is not new. A recent example of media repression is when a group of masked men attacked two radio stations, La Estrella Maya que Habla and La FM Maya, in Quintana Roo, southwest Mexico on October 28 that injured journalists and a caretaker. This was not the first time La Estrella Maya que Habla was attacked.
On October 2, 15 journalists were attacked by police in Mexico City while they were covering protests marking the 45th anniversary of a student massacre in 1968. Many journalists were injured and others had their equipment damaged by marauding law enforcement officers.
“We have previously noted that that abuses directed at journalists covering demonstrations will continue unless they are punished. The trivialization of violence against journalists undermines media coverage of events of this nature. We point out that, without journalists, the demonstrators’ message would not be heard by the public,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF)
The attack on individual journalists and institutions and demonstrating protestors are different strategies carried out by the Mexican government to stifle dissent, especially to ensure that the unpopularity of the government does not achieve wide publicity. RSF says 88 journalist have been killed in the country in the past 10 years and 17 have disappeared.
In view of this, Article 19 launched an initiative to monitor the media to prevent Mexican authorities targeting journalists and others who document protests against the government. The report, which is in Spanish, looks at 46 cases where protestors were attacked by the police.

“In total, 46 cases were documented by Article 19: 30 men, 11 women and 5 people who have not disclosed their gender for security reasons. Thirty-two cases were direct attacks committed by the police, eight were violations committed by unknown groups, three were committed by organised groups which might have been acting with the support and consent of security agents, and three incidents involved attackers with their faces covered,” says a post on Article 19’s website.