Televisa tangled in Mexico’s prexy vote

Media conglom accused of breaching election law

MEXICO CITY — Some 50 million Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new president on Sunday, following a political campaign that further exposed powerful media conglom Televisa’s links to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Meanwhile, local bizzers are complaining that the winner isn’t likely to help advance their agendas and hasn’t made culture a priority.

Televisa, known around the world for its hit telenovelas, is being pilloried for backing the country’s likely next leading man, right-wing PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto.

This comes amid accusations it mounted a multi-faceted campaign to prop up Pena Nieto in defiance of the country’s strict 2007 election law that mandates equal political coverage for all parties in the media.

He had an average of 43.6% of voter support in seven polls released this week and looks unbeatable.

Televisa has long been connected with the PRI. The broadcast giant served as a virtual mouthpiece for the PRI from the 1960s until CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean took the reigns in 1997, disavowing ties to the party that ruled the country from 1946 until 2000.

Left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), who has an average of 29.4% of voter support, has become a champion of those who believe the ties are still too strong and has long-accused the web of manipulating public perceptions to benefit the PRI.

That sentiment crystallized with the formation of a youth movement that calls itself “YoSoy132” (I am 132), which has held multiple protests against both the return of the PRI and Televisa’s dominant role in politics.

After forming in mid-May, the movement quickly gained national attention, boosting support for Lopez Obrador, as they fashioned themselves into a media watchdog. Tens of thousands students are set to march Saturday and will observe polling stations on Sunday.

The student protests were fuelled by a June 7 report in U.K. newspaper the Guardian stating it had obtained documents showing Televisa was paid 300 million pesos ($20 million) by the State of Mexico to mount a campaign to promote Pena Nieto, its former governor.

While technically legal, the media campaign follows a pattern of working around election laws to promote political allies and disputes Televisa’s claims of neutrality.

The Guardian also published a number of diplomatic wires from Wikileaks supporting its assertions and on Tuesday alleged Televisa had hired a pro-Pena-Nieto cadre from within its ranks, codenamed “Team Handcock,” to produce TV spots mocking the ruling National Action Party (PAN), whose candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota is in third place with only 23.8% of voter support in polls.

Televisa has called all the accusations false and impossible to verify.

Meanwhile, it is unclear how Sunday’s outcome will affect the film industry.

Pena Nieto has barely raised the matter of culture during his campaign.

Vazquez Mota wants to raise culture to a cabinet-level position and double funding for a health insurance program for artists and generators of culture approved in November.

Lopez Obrador has said he would push for the production and exhibition of Mexican cinema and also wants to raise culture to a cabinet-level position led by writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska.

But while Lopez Obrador, an outspoken leftist leader who narrowly lost his bid for the presidency in 2006, has won support from industryites Diego Luna, Damian Alcazar and producer Epigmenio Ibarra, some in the local biz find the two leading candidates lacking.

“It’s lamentable that neither have incorporated development of the film industry into their cultural policy proposals,” said indie producer Martha Sosa (“Amores perros,” “Presumed Guilty”). “What is in play is the 226 Fiscal Stimulus, which cost us so much to win and develop and could be in danger of disappearing,” she said referring to a tax incentive program that drove the number of films produced in Mexico from 36 in 2004 to roughly 70 a year since 2007.

“That would be a serious blow for our budding film industry/community,” said Sosa in an email. She’s also concerned that if Pena Nieto wins, his PRI party would fill the exec ranks of coin programs with “ignorant functionaries attempting to control content because they might be uncomfortable for the new government.”

Such programs include Foprocine and Fidecine, Imcine’s premier coin programs aimed at supporting arthouse and mainstream films, respectively.