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Building the Fourth Estate: Democratization and the Rise of a Free Press in Mexico

Chappell H. Lawson
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 301
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  • Book Info
    Building the Fourth Estate
    Book Description:

    Based on an in-depth examination of Mexico's print and broadcast media over the last twenty-five years, this book is the most richly detailed account available of the role of the media in democratization, demonstrating the reciprocal relationship between changes in the press and changes in the political system. In addition to illuminating the nature of political change in Mexico, this accessibly written study also has broad implications for understanding the role of the mass media in democratization around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93620-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In June 1995, President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico made a remarkable declaration while traveling near the capital. The president was hoping to reassure his fellow Mexicans that their country, then in the midst of deep economic and political crisis, was on the right track. In the course of his remarks, Zedillo made reference to a small group of “bad guys” (malosos) within the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). These officials, Zedillo implied, lay behind some of the country’s recent troubles—including the shocking 1994 assassinations of PRI leader José Francisco Ruiz-Massieu¹ and PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio.²

    Mexican journalists...

  7. PART 1. The Old Regime and the Mexican Media

    • CHAPTER 2 The Perfect Dictatorship
      (pp. 13-24)

      Mexico’s peculiar political system was once characterized by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas-Llosa as “the perfect dictatorship.”¹ From the 1930s until the late 1990s, Mexican political life was dominated by single “official” party, currently named the PRI. During this period, the PRI controlled Mexico’s most important political offices, and, through a series of state-corporatist institutions, its leading sectoral, professional, and civic organizations. True to the regime’s liberal facade, opposition parties were allowed some role at the margin of the political system, especially in municipal government and in the lower house of the legislature. But serious challenges to PRI rule were invariably...

    • CHAPTER 3 Media Control under the Perfect Dictatorship
      (pp. 25-47)

      All the essential traits of Mexico’s political system were reflected in the country’s press. Early on during the period of authoritarian rule, the media were colonized and used as a vehicle for private gain and political legitimization. Lucrative broadcasting concessions were doled out to regime supporters with the dual purpose of benefiting political insiders and ensuring favorable coverage. Meanwhile, different factions of the political elite founded or purchased their own newspapers to advance personal and policy agendas, supporting them through an array of government subsidies. In this environment, a wide range of ideological perspectives and a certain amount of criticism...

    • CHAPTER 4 Media Coverage under the Perfect Dictatorship
      (pp. 48-58)

      In general, Mexico’s system of media control proved remarkably effective in producing a relatively docile and domesticated press. Opposition voices rarely appeared to challenge official paradigms; government abuses were ignored; and the ruling party received lavish coverage during election season. The old regime thus helped to guarantee positive coverage in three senses: (1) official control of the public agenda, (2) selective silence on issues of particular vulnerability for the government, and (3) partisan bias in favor of the PRI during election campaigns. At the same time, though, the flexible character of the regime and the subtle nature of most forms...

  8. PART 2. Media Opening in Mexico

    • CHAPTER 5 Opening Mexico’s Print Media
      (pp. 61-92)

      During the last two decades of the twentieth century, Mexico’s old system of media control gradually broke down. Halting political reform rendered the use of certain coercive mechanisms—direct censorship, physical repression, etc.—more problematic. Changing professional norms within Mexico’s journalistic ranks promoted independent reporting. Publishers and broadcasters capitalized on the increasing receptiveness of media audiences to more assertive coverage, and the financial success of independent media earned them a great deal of autonomy. Ultimately, commercial competition between an emerging Fourth Estate and Mexico’s traditional media establishment encouraged diversity and independence in the press.

      These changes began in Mexico’s print...

    • CHAPTER 6 Opening Mexico’s Broadcast Media
      (pp. 93-122)

      On April 16, 1997, media magnate Emilio Azcárraga Jr.—known as “the Tiger”—died of cancer on his yacht off the coast of Miami.¹ His demise provoked a predictable range of reactions across the Mexican political spectrum. Executives and financiers paid tribute to one of the country’s richest men, who had presided over the remarkable development of Mexico’s television industry.² Politicians from the ruling party mourned the passing of a longtime ally who had openly proclaimed his partisan sympathies. Meanwhile, civic and opposition groups expressed the hope that Azcárraga’s demise would stimulate further opening in Televisa, the multi-billion-dollar media conglomerate...

  9. PART 3. The Political Consequences of Media Opening

    • CHAPTER 7 Media Opening and Civil Society in Mexico
      (pp. 125-137)

      On September 19, 1985—the same day that a devastating earthquake rocked Mexico City—La Jornadanewspaper celebrated its first anniversary. It was an appropriately symbolic pairing, linking the event that triggered a rebirth of Mexican civil society with the birthday of the newspaper that served as the principal forum for that same civil society. Over the next decade,La Jornadaattempted to “give voice” to Mexico’s emerging non-governmental organizations. NGOs thus saw their views and actions reflected back to them as they attempted to democratize the Mexican political system. This dialogue between civil society and the independent press created...

    • CHAPTER 8 Media Opening, Scandal, and Regime Delegitimation
      (pp. 138-156)

      On June 28, 1995, Guerrero state police ambushed a group of peasant activists passing through the hamlet of Aguas Blancas on their way to a political rally. Videotaped images of the massacre, subsequently aired on television, revealed a grisly scene: seventeen people were killed in the attack, several shot at point-blank range. Despite months of official denials and doctored evidence, the ensuing scandal would culminate ten months later in the resignation of Guerrero’s governor, Rubén Figueroa Jr., and the prosecution of over two dozen state government officials.

      The Aguas Blancas scandal, like a series of other political scandals that rocked...

    • CHAPTER 9 Media Opening, Campaigns, and Elections
      (pp. 157-170)

      On July 6, 1997 something remarkable occurred: Mexican voters went to the polls to choose their representatives in a truly free and fair election. Aside from scattered reports of fraud and violence, balloting was generally orderly. Indeed, in many parts of the country the process seemed downright mundane.

      The results, however, were not. Soon after the voting stations closed, initial returns and exit polls indicated an unmistakable trend: the PRI was losing, and in some places, losing badly. At nine-thirty in the evening, Alfredo del Mazo, PRI candidate for mayor of Mexico City, officially conceded the election to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas....

  10. PART 4. Media Opening and Democratization

    • CHAPTER 10 Conclusions
      (pp. 173-210)

      For decades, Mexico’s media were thoroughly intertwined with the country’s one-party system. A web of subsidies, concessions, bribes, and perquisites created a captive media establishment that faithfully reflected ruling party priorities. Coverage was marked by official dominance of public discourse, spaces of silence on topics that were potentially damaging to the regime, and systematic favoritism for the ruling party during electoral campaigns. The effect of this coverage was to legitimize Mexico’sancien régimeand marginalize opposition groups.

      All this began to change with the growth of independent publications in the 1980s and 1990s. Reporters and publishers with different journalistic goals...

  11. Appendix: Data for Figures and Tables
    (pp. 211-216)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-258)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-287)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 288-288)