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Mexico's media under scrutiny in documentary

February 24, 2009 |  8:30 am

Foto_film_web Violence against journalists in Mexico is, sadly, nothing new and has been followed closely by the press and nonprofits alike for the last few years.

But "Voces Silenciadas" (Silenced Voices), a documentary film that was part of the Ambulante film festival here, broadens the debate around the persecution of journalists to encompass the bigger issues of media ownership and the relationship between the media and Mexico’s political powers.

Director Maria del Carmen De Lara doesn’t simply examine the dozens of unsolved cases of murdered and disappeared journalists in Mexico over the last couple of years –- she delves deeper, looking at media monopolies in Mexico and how those affect press freedom more broadly.

The film uses the departure of Carmen Aristegui , one of Mexico’s most prominent and respected journalists, from W Radio in January of last year as her starting point.

Aristegui’s "Hoy Por Hoy" morning news program had been on for five years and was one of the most listened to in Mexico when it was cut from the airwaves. Aristegui has since returned to radio news on a different network, but De Lara says her case shows how concentrated media ownership in Mexico has reduced the range of opinions in Mexico's media and silence unwanted ones.


You can see Aristegui explain the circumstances behind her case in the video below, first shown in this La Plaza post.

In the documentary, De Lara makes her point mostly through a series of interviews with prominent Mexican journalists, analysts and writers, as well as media executives. Those interviews are interspersed with an audio recording of her repeatedly calling Televisa, part owner of W Radio, for an interview about Aristegui’s case -- an interview that is eventually granted but sheds no new light on the case. Mexico’s giant Grupo Televisa multimedia company and Grupo Prisa, Spain’s largest media conglomerate, are joint owners of W Radio.

The format of the documentary is where it sags because the film is mainly a series of talking heads, sometimes accompanied by images of satirical cartoons snipped from Mexican newspapers. None of the visual material does justice to the urgency of the problems facing the press here in Mexico, which is a shame, because the issues of freedom of expression and violence against journalists here are serious.

The latter continues to hobble many media workers in Mexico, especially those who cover organized crime and the government, and has created a culture of self-censorship.

But De Lara’s interviewees do make a great case.

On leaving the cinema, I was disappointed as a viewer with the format of the documentary and didn’t feel I’d learned anything I didn’t already know.  But on reflection, it occurred to me that foreign journalists were not the target audience of this film. The cinema is a good place to reach at least some average Mexican citizens, most of whom get their news from television. A massive 92% of Mexico’s television stations are owned by just two companies -– Televisa and TV Azteca -– which is De Lara’s point.

"I want the people to see the whole story that has been the struggle for a different kind of journalism in Mexico, a journalism that's more diverse and inclusive," she said in a telephone interview from Puebla, Mexico.

"That they understand what are the pressures for journalists, that the people understand another view of things, that they have other information, which this documentary has also done, for history."

She also said she wants to show that, since the 1984 assassination of one of Mexico's most prominent journalists, Manuel Buendia, Mexico "continues to have situations of impunity and situations that violate fundamental human rights."

At the time of writing, there was no distribution deal signed to take the documentary to the United States, but De Lara was in conversations about possibly showing the film in London.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Image: A publicity poster for the documentary "Voces Silenciadas" (Silenced Voices). Credit: Ambulante.com.mx. Video: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times

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