No. 2 Azteca refuses free ads for political campaigns

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government escalated its fight with No. 2 broadcaster TV Azteca over its continued refusal to air mandated political spots for free, slapping it with a 72 million pesos ($5.5 million) fine from the Federal Electoral Commission (IFE).

The fine is the highest ever levied against a media outlet in Mexico.

The IFE accused the conglom of failing to run 7,000 spots required by law in regions preparing for statewide elections. This latest penalty comes on the heels of July’s $1.7 million fine for not running around 5,700 ads and three smaller fines earlier in the year that totaled about $450,000.

IFE commissioner Alfredo Figueroa said, “We are facing another attempt by the broadcaster to pervert constitutional law,” and he cast aside arguments that the fine would face a crush of appeals.

The heavier fine is seen by critics as necessary to counteract Azteca’s increasingly nonchalant disobedience of the 2007 electoral overhaul, which was intended to level the playing field between parties by taking the cost of TV advertising out of the equation,

But even huge fines may not be a realistic deterrent. The ads are required to run during primetime and, with some slots worth up to $77,000 a minute, it’s worth it to eat the fines.

Should the IFE continue to punish Azteca in this way, the effect of the new law will be to add one more cost of doing business in Mexico.

The law also allows the government to temporarily suspend the conglom from the airwaves, but the IFE has yet to consider such a move.

Azteca refused to comment on the fine.

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