Mexican Senate to vote on media law

Two committees approved legislation 11-9

The Senate is poised to vote today on a new radio and TV bill that opponents say would further empower Mexico’s two dominant television companies.

Two Senate committees narrowly approved the controversial legislation 11-9 on Tuesday after months of heated debate and intense lobbying by Mexico’s two commercial broadcasters, Televisa and TV Azteca, to push the bill through.

Proponents say the reform is needed to adapt Mexico’s 45-year-old media law to new digital technologies.

But critics say the bill would allow Televisa and TV Azteca to claim spectrum freed up by the transition to digital broadcast without having to pay the government to operate new channels and digital services.

In the U.S. and Europe, for example, governments plan to resell the freed-up spectrum for billions of dollars.

Mexico’s political parties are in the midst of presidential and congressional campaigns. Lawmakers opposed to the bill say Televisa and TV Azteca are effectively blackmailing lawmakers to approve the reforms or risk unfavorable news coverage for their candidates.

“Televisa has the Senate under its boot,” said Sen. Manuel Bartlett of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Mexico’s lower house unanimously approved the bill, dubbed “the Televisa law” by the local press, with no debate in early December.

That vote sparked an avalanche of criticism by journalists, academics and public broadcasters, who said the transition to digital broadcasts should be used to increase competition in the Mexican market.

Mexico’s TV duopoly concentrates 95% of the country’s broadcast audience. Televisa operates four of the nation’s six national commercial channels, as well as Mexico’s only satellite TV company and Mexico City’s major cable TV company.

Televisa and TV Azteca’s news anchors on Monday night both vigorously defended the new law.

Televisa anchor Joaquin Lopez-Doriga angrily denied the net had bribed lawmakers to approve the bill. “Those who have made false accusations know that they cannot offer one single piece of evidence that a member of Televisa has acted illegally,” he said.