Broadcaster to pay over $500,000

Mexico’s Federal Elections Board fined TV Azteca, the nation’s No. 2 broadcaster, more than $500,000 on Friday for breaking the ban on broadcasting ads paid for by political parties.

The decision proves the board’s determination to police the ban, part of election rules passed last fall, and derails what has been a multimillion-dollar gravy train for Azteca and its bigger rival Televisa.

Azteca ran the spots, advertising a Mexico City demonstration led by failed left-wing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to protest energy reforms, at least 15 times between March 12 and 25.

The ads were paid for by the Broad Progressive Front, a coalition of three leftist parties that backed Lopez Obrador’s 2006 presidential campaign.

A number of pundits in the local media saw Azteca’s attempt to run the spots as testing the waters against the new laws, which force TV nets and radio stations to run political ads for free at certain times.

As part of the punishment, Azteca must re-run the same ads for free at sanctioned time slots after Wednesday, despite the fact that the rally has already taken place. TV Azteca will appeal.

TV and radio congloms opposed the electoral changes in October and November 2007, saying the measure blocks freedom of speech.

The Federal Elections Board’s tally of TV ad expenditure in the 2006 presidential election totaled $130 million.

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