Sunday, March 15, 2015

MVS, MexicoLeaks and the ‘Mexicanization’ of censorship

The Aurelia Fierros' Report │ Column

Forget corruption, negligence, ineptitude, greed and arrogance. Enrique Peña Nieto's administration is more worried in attacking the appearance than the cause of Mexico's problems. Image above all, at any cost.
That is why is not a complete surprise that the most recent and radical move to mute a credible national media platform has been directed to the well-respected journalist Carmen Aristegui and her team: she was fired Sunday night, according to an announcement by MVS Radio, her employer.
We can connect the dots by going back to Los Pinos. Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez, a former Corporate Vice President for telecommunications and legal affairs at MVS, is Peña Nieto's current speaker, and there are huge expectations on him to deploy a much more aggressive "communications" strategy than the one that allowed the president's image to plunge from the very beginning of his term. Sanchez Hernandez is also a former Congressman affiliated to the ruling party.
Aristegui, who since 2009 was the host of Primera Emisión -a high-audience MVS Radio morning show- had within other, investigated and triggered the scandals about the president's sumptuous properties, including his wife's $7 million mansion dubbed as the "White House" for its walls and floors covered in marble (which was built by the same firm that had been privileged with a contract to build and operate a $3.7 billion high-speed train.)
The journalist and her investigative unit had recently uncovered many other corruption cases as the properties purchased by Peña Nieto's finance minister also from government contractors, and a prostitution ring ran by the ruling party -the Institutional Revolutionary Party- in Mexico City. Two members of her special assignments team were the first to be fired last Thursday.
MVS rescinded Atristegui's contract arguing that "as a company, we can't accept conditions and ultimatums from our collaborators," referring in a statement to the journalist's demand for the reinstatement of her collaborators as an "absolute condition" to continue with her show.
MVS Radio accused Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huerta of an alliance with a recently launched whistleblower site without the company's knowledge or authorization.
During her morning show on Friday, Aristegui had responded by saying of her colleagues that: "they should be rewarded not punished," adding that "this looks like a provocation to cut ties." A day earlier, the radio host defended the use of the newly launched independent platform Mexicoleaks, affirming that it will provide an essential tool to combat corruption.
MVS actions against Aristegui's team haven't been well received by the public opinion. The allusion in social media, internet commentaries, columns and other journalistic outlets in Mexico, is that there is more behind the position of MVS, than just mere indignation for the journalist's ultimatum, or for the improper use of their resources and their brand in the launching of Mexicoleaks.
Their decision is being attributed to the allegations made by Aristegui's team against President Enrique Peña Nieto, his family and his government.
The Ombudsman of the company, Gabriel Sosa Plata, said in a statement that the campaign deployed by MVS is "unprecedented and disproportionate" and that it could affect their own journalistic standards. About Aristegui's termination he lamented saying "is a sad night for journalism and for freedom of expression. We insisted for a dialogue but intolerance won."
All of these happen as the voices denouncing abuse of authority and barbarity in Mexico, are multiplying abroad.
The United Nations' High Commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has placed Mexico on the list of 38 countries with serious violations of such rights, and said that Mexico is a "cruel example" of how criminal violence can threaten democratic gains achieved to great effort. Al Hussein expressed its concern for the widespread violence and its links with organized crime, the security forces and local and federal authorities, and pointed out that the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, is far from being an isolated case.
Despite its control tactics, the current Mexican administration's image is now an "abject failure," the precise words utilized by British business tycoon Richard Branson and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to refer to the war on drugs, during the Mexican president's visit to Britain. The remarks were made in an editorial article published on The Guardian on March 3, 2015.
A few days earlier, an email sent by Pope Francis to an Argentinian lawmaker, made it to many media outlets. In the communication, the Pope said that he had been talking to some Mexican Bishops, and that the situation in their country is "terrifying." "Hopefully we are on time to avoid Mexicanization," he added, referring to the drug trafficking in his native Argentina.
The recent captures of a couple of high profile drug lords in Mexico, Servando Gomez Martinez aka "La Tuta" and Omar Treviño Morales aka "Z-42", is being interpreted as a smokescreen to deviate attention from the too many unsolved cases of brutality and impunity, including Ayotzinapa and Tlatlaya.
In this context, the implementation of Mexicoleaks as a platform for civilians to securely and anonymously divulge information and complaints is crucial. Specifically considering Peña Nieto's administration strong investment in press releases, favorable propaganda, distracting rhetoric and statistical games, in order to reinforce and maintain its image.
Aristegui has been a great pivot to counterbalance such powerful media control and it's not the first time she has been under heavy fire. She was terminated from MVS in 2011, and rehired a week later, after she reported on then President Felipe Calderon's strong rumors of alcoholism. She asked the same questions written in a sign displayed by opposition representatives during a Congress session: "Would you let a drunken man drive your car? No. Right? Then, why do you let him drive your country?"
Once more, Aristegui has been removed from air and this is very dangerous for Mexico, as Primera Emisión is one of the few nationally broadcasted forums that openly and aggressively questions the government. Using Pope Francis expression, this is the absolute "Mexicanization" of censorship.

Updated as of March 15, 2015 10:00 p.m.

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