Using Billions in Government Cash, Mexico Controls News Media

Mr. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as the PRI, pioneered this system during its 70 years in power. Former President José López Portillo explicitly laid out the government’s expectations decades ago — he was even quoted as saying that he did not pay the media to attack him — and the practice continued when the opposition claimed the presidency in 2000, then again in 2006.

But the government’s influence over the media goes well beyond the advertising spigot, with officials sometimes resorting to outright bribery. In Chihuahua, the former governor spent more than $50 million on publicity, officials say, in a state saddled with huge public debts. Yet that was just the official figure.

Prosecutors have also collected signed receipts for bribes to local journalists — payoffs so common that some reporters were even listed as government contractors, documents show. With so much government money circling around, entire news websites sprang up with a single purpose, prosecutors contend: to support the former governor’s agenda.

“The relation between the media and power is one of the gravest problems in Mexico,” said Javier Corral, the new governor of Chihuahua. “There is collusion, an arrangement, in terms of how the public resources are managed to reward or punish the media. It’s carrot and stick: ‘Behave well, and I’ll give you lots of money and advertising. Act bad and I’ll get rid of it.’”

Reliance on Public Advertising


La Jornada workers during a strike. The government helped pull the publication out of financial peril with more than $1 million in official advertising. Critics say it claimed the paper’s editorial independence in the process.

Bernardo Montoya/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Pick up a newspaper, tune into a radio station or flip on the television in Mexico and you are…

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