Scion stamping Televisa with new glasnost style

MEXICO CITY — Barely a month after Televisa founding chairman Emilio Azcarraga Milmo handed control to his son, Emilio Azcarraga Jean, Mexico’s secretive media giant is showing startling signs of openness.

In a live telephone interview on Televisa primetime showbiz magazine “De Boca en Boca” Monday, top novela actor Ari Telch announced his resignation and criticized Televisa’s handling of his career.

“I’m at the age of making decisions and of not subjecting myself to the mediocrity to which they (Televisa execs) take you,” Telch told “De Boca” host Maxine Woodside.

Until recently, no Televisa host or producer would have dared give live airtime to a disgruntled star.

And, rather than beat a retreat, Woodside followed up Tuesday with a second novelty, a face-to-face chat with actress Ana Colchero, who abandoned Televisa for rival TV Azteca last year. Traditionally, Televisa-trained stars who work elsewhere have been blacklisted by the company for years.

But the new openness does not simply owe to generational change at the top. Televisa, though still the dominant broadcaster, lost significant audience and ad share to Azteca in 1996, and execs began to worry about losing touch with viewers.

In response, Azcarraga Milmo and senior aide Gaston Melo devised “Espacio 97,” a four-day March seminar allowing several thousand students to meet with Televisa insiders and quiz them about production methods, talent development, marketing, etc.

“In ‘Espacio 97’ people talked about many things that were taboo before. The need for Televisa to open its doors to certain themes and ideas became clear to Televisa executives,” publicity chief Victor Hugo Sanchez told Daily Variety.

It’s still unclear whether the new openness will also be applied to newscasts, which have long been unabashedly pro-government. Televisa last year revealed state culpability in a massacre of 17 peasants, a special report that led to the dismissal of a state governor, but primetime newscast “24 Horas” has altered little.

Azcarraga Jean recently talked to Mexico’s top political magazine, Proceso, about a need for truth in news reporting. Since Proceso has always regarded Televisa as the root of countless social and cultural evils, Azcarraga Jean’s agreeing to the interview was a statement in itself.

But political analysts are reserving judgment, waiting to see how Televisa covers this summer’s elections for mayor of Mexico City and other posts.

“Fair treatment of the major candidates and parties will go a long way toward the democratization of this country, while a regression to past bias will only lead to more cynicism and desperation,” wrote commentator Richard Seid in Wednesday’s Mexico City Times.

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