I Am 132: Is a social movement that petitions for unbiased information a reflection of the role balanced and transparent media plays in democratization?

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Raul Scorza's picture

I Am 132: Is a social movement that petitions for unbiased information a reflection of the role balanced and transparent media plays in democratization?

Information, as delivered to the masses through different media outlets, became pivotal in the Western creation of political and social institutions in an attempt to gauge the progress of traditional societies. Although now somewhat removed from the Western understanding of the modern-traditional dichotomy presented by modernization theory, it is not entirely possible to discard all of its elements. One in particular remains current: the tremendous influence the media exerted perhaps not to attain modernization, but to achieve democratization. However, in the age of information, the fact that the defining substance of our era can still be found faulty, manipulated and even lacking in several parts of the globe is undoubtedly paradoxical and to some extent quite disheartening.

This bleak contradiction poses an important question, for how can corrupt information that has been processed by biased media lead to effective democratization, to knowledgeable decision-making during an intense electoral process, for example? A social movement that originated in the midst of one of Mexico’s most active Presidential campaigns in recent years attempts to grasp at a solution to the discord. The movement, known as #YoSoy132 (I Am 132), states that democratization is only possible when unbiased information is guaranteed, product of the democratization of the media itself.

 If democratization is to be understood as the process by which a regime becomes democratic, then identifying a start and an end to it proves problematic. On one hand, the definition may be properly delineated, since it is possible to constrain democratization between the downfall of authoritarian rule in a nation and its first democratic elections. On the other, democratization escapes set boundaries, for democratic elections do not immediately consolidate the practice of cardinal democratic values and as such, the process becomes perpetual. Nonetheless, the role of the media throughout the development of the process, continuous or finite, becomes evident in three key stages: Laying the foundations for, transitioning to and consolidating democratization, all of which are only attained when equitable information is available, provided by balanced and transparent media. Thus, the social movement #YoSoy132, when petitioning for a component that enables these three phases, is an apt reflection of the critical role the media plays in democratization.

 The emergence of the movement can be traced to May 11th, 2012, when the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)´s presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto attended the Jesuit, privately owned Universidad Iberoamericana (Ibero). Mr. Peña Nieto responded to the university’s Foro Buen Ciudadano Ibero initiative, whose final stage consisted of inviting the four Presidential candidates of the July 1, 2012 election. Several Ibero students booed and heckled the PRI’s contender during his public appearance. Following Mr. Peña Nieto’s hurried exit, supporters of the PRI and some officials from its nominee’s campaign labeled the discontented students as agents of dissent planted in the university by their political rivals, and chastised them in the printed press and television.

131 Ibero students uploaded videos on Youtube and Facebook on May 14th that show them holding up their university ID’s to confirm their enrolment in the university and denying the manipulation they allegedly suffered. The hashtag #YoSoy132 began to appear on the social media as a demonstration of solidarity with the students that uploaded the video to dispel their discredit and as a symbolic adherence to the 131. The protests were set in motion when on May 18th, hundreds of students marched outside Televisa’s Chapultepec and San Angel broadcasting centers, one of two Mexican television media networks (TV Azteca being the other; the two accused by protesters of being a ‘telecracy’) that own approximately 95% of the media in Mexican homes. On May 19th, 30,000 to 46,000 people, now including students from both private and public universities, marched on Paseo de la Reforma, a main avenue in the Distrito Federal, Mexico’s capital. Slogans that targeted Mr. Peña Nieto, his party, Televisa, and the tacit link between the three echoed throughout the protest. The decision by TV Azteca not to broadcast the presidential debate was also cause for concern for those that rallied to the #YoSoy132 march.

Mainstream Mexican media, previously contented by dismissing the protests as unfounded, were forced to acknowledge them due to the massive size of the mobilizations. The manifesto and the list of demands of #YoSoy132, a leaderless, non-partisan and plural organization, was ready to be presented on May 23rd. The movement, whose “concern derives itself from the state of [Mexico’s] national press and media, and their political role in a democratic context” contained a clear stipulation that resounds in the issue regarding the media and democratization: “The democratization of the media with the purpose of guaranteeing transparent, plural and unbiased information in order to encourage critical thinking”.

The wording of this specific demand offers peculiar insight to the context in which #YoSoy132 surfaced. The phrase ‘the democratization of the media’ elucidates the perception that the media in Mexico acts under an authoritarian leadership that needs to undergo a changing process to become truly democratic. This perception does not stray far from the truth. Television coverage is the focal point of some of the protesters, who argue that Televisa provides more favorable coverage to Enrique Peña Nieto. #YoSoy132’s accusations of Televisa and TV Azteca demonstrating favoritism towards the PRI are not the first to be put forward against the two networks. In 1973, the country’s leading private entrepreneurs pooled their financial assets to form Televisa, a near broadcasting monopoly, all under the rule of the PRI. Exchanging concessions and subsidies for positive coverage, the PRI was guaranteed favorable coverage (the opposition receiving disdainful treatment) while Televisa was protected from competition and was ensured subsidized facilities.

Television Azteca was created when a large part of a network state-owned television channels were privatized in 1990, but the political coverage offered by the new national network differed in a virtually null fashion from that of Televisa. However, the PRI losing its foothold in some states in the country, the foundation of the autonomous Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) to monitor electoral coverage and Televisa’s shift in 1997 from outspokenly supporting the PRI to becoming strictly business-oriented helped balance the coverage: From 1988, when the PRI received 80% of private network airtime to about one third according to the IFE’s May 20th report on the 2011-2012 presidential campaign. Still, partisan bias survived, as proven by Sallie Hughes and Chapell Lawson’s investigation on six Mexican broadcasters during the 2000 presidential race. Their findings conclude that private networks (affiliates to Televisa/TV Azteca and independent) respond only to commercial incentives, usually in the form of running political advertisements when promised the rewards of crony capitalism, like concessions, subsidies and tax cuts, regardless of the political party that made the offer.

The illusion that the authoritarian yoke on the media stems only from privately owned networks is banished by Hughes and Lawson’s same study. The majority of state-owned television stations that went under scrutiny unveiled state governors that were at their helm and used biased airtime as propaganda while subjugating personnel. The problem concerning biased media and the impossibility of democratization reappears, but it is with the aforementioned in mind that the three stages of plausible democratization by means of transparent and objective media are now verily embodied by #YoSoy132.

 The fair media lays the foundations for democratization by opening crucial channels of impartial information and in doing so promotes an inquisitive and involved civic society. #YoSoy132 ensures in its manifesto that  “empowering citizens through information…allows us to make better social, political and economic decisions”. The fair media initiates the transition to democratization by acting in an evenhanded manner during a blatantly democratic process: Ensuring the unprejudiced coverage of all candidates, parties and ideas during Presidential elections. #YoSoy132 made of televising the second presidential debate on the national network an immediate demand in its manifesto, and as of May 28th, Televisa announced its compliance with the request. The fair media consolidates democratization by preventing the advancements of the achieved democracy to fall prey to corruption or illegal practices by holding wrongdoers accountable through accessible information. #YoSoy132 called for the assignment of civil observers to act as watchdogs of radio, television and the press, and the appointment of an ombudsman to act under a code of ethics.

The stark paradox remains, but the role of the balanced media, ensures that the three described stages of democratization come to fruition. The hope for real democracy is even brighter when democratization occurs not in a linear manner, but in a spark that ignites the three phases simultaneously, manifest in the #YoSoy132 movement.

Bibliography

  1.  Hughes, Sallie, and Chappell Lawson. "Propaganda and Crony Capitalism: Partisan Bias in Mexican Television News." Latin American Research Review 39.3 (2004): 81-105. Print.
  2. Casey, Nicholas, and José De Córdoba. "Mexican Protest Ties Between Politics, Media." The Wall Street Journal [Mexico City] 23 May 2012. Print.
  3.  Miller, James. "NGOs and 'modernization' and 'democratization' of Media: Situating Media Assistance." Global Media and Communication 5.9 (2009): 9-33. Print.
  4. "Yo Soy 132": Declaratoria Y Pliego Petitorio." Animal Politico. http://www.animalpolitico.com/2012/05/declaratoria-y-pliego-petitorio-de-yo-soy-132/ 23 May 2012. Accessed June 2, 2012.
  5.  "#TodosSomos132: Solidarity with Mexican Spring." Occupy Wall Street. http://occupywallst.org/article/mexico-yosoy132/  25 May 2012. Web. 2 June 2012.