Mexico’s Senate on Thursday was on the verge of approving a controversial media law reform that critics say will hand over the digital spectrum to the country’s dominant broadcasters — Televisa and TV Azteca — for nada.
Lawmakers continued to debate the reform before a possible vote late Thursday. The two largest political parties believe they have enough votes to approve the bill, passed unanimously by Mexico’s lower house in December and approved by two Senate committees on Tuesday despite the concerns of the antitrust commission.
The legislation updates Mexico’s 45-year-old media law to take into account digital broadcast, Internet and telco services.
Supporters say it will make media regulation more transparent; opponents say it would allow incumbents Televisa and TV Azteca to offer digital services without paying for the privilege, while newcomers will have to bid for the rights.
“This model will lead to further concentration and the gradual elimination of competition,” said Sen. Dulce Maria Sauri from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). “Any company that doesn’t have the same resources as the largest companies will not be able to compete.”
However, Sen. Fauzi Hamden, from the National Action Party (PAN), applauded the bill for transferring the power to award concessions from Mexico’s executive branch (read: the president) to an independent regulator.
The debate underscored the power of Mexico’s TV duopoly: Televisa was the country’s first broadcaster when it went on air in 1950 and held the monopoly until 1993, when TV Azteca came into being. Televisa controls four of the six national networks and draws 70% of viewers.
Thursday’s debate followed months of mudslinging between lawmakers and TV station owners. Televisa lobbied intensely to push the bill through.
Mexico’s political parties are facing off in presidential and congressional elections in July. Those opposed to the bill say Televisa and TV Azteca had pressured lawmakers to approve the reforms or risk unfavorable news coverage for their candidates.
During its nightly newscast on Monday, Televisa’s anchor Joaquin Lopez-Doriga denied the web had illegally bribed or pressured lawmakers.