Accountability systems

Historically, the narrative that has prevailed in the relationship between public institutions and media systems has been one where media self-regulation acts as a way in which media owners, publishers, and journalists could be accountable. However, during most parts of the 20th century federal and local executive branches had the power to regulate and modify the operations of media institutions. In the self-regulation narrative, there is no shared ethics or deontological code that guides media systems and journalists, nor national or local organisations of media owners, publishers, or journalists that have clear objectives towards self-regulation.

Since the 2014 legal reform to the Constitution and the publication of the Broadcasting and Telecommunication Federal Act, broadcasters are obliged to have an ombudsman or public editor. This ombudsman should be in charge to stay in touch with the TV channel or radio station, to receive the observations, criticism and petitions form viewers and listeners, and to mediate between the public and the media institution. Each TV channel and radio station has the right to designate the public editor and to develop its own ethics code. Up to now, four years after the reform, there is no public information available to know how many radio stations and TV channels have installed an ombudsman.

Finally, during electoral campaigns, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Institute) has the power to sanction media institutions, political parties, and candidates who do not follow the electoral laws and guidelines. Mexican laws prohibit broadcasters to commercialise ads and editorial content during an election. This means that political parties and candidates cannot purchase ads for radio and television nor interviews or native or sponsored content. The National Electoral Institute assigns to each political party and candidate a certain amount of radio and TV ads during the campaign, which media institutions must broadcast as part of what they pay to the Mexican State for using the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus, if any media institutions sell time for broadcasting ads or news to any political party, candidate or layperson, the National Electoral Institute has the power of sanctioning these organisation and persons.

Journalistic accountability is generally being left to public opinion, often in social media. Journalists from legacy media and even of international calibre are frequently held accountable either by other journalists or by their audiences when publishing uncorroborated information, misrepresenting or exaggerating facts or using false information, leading to rich, welcome debates about professional standards. In a country with a history of collusive press-state relations and overall low trust in the media, more than ever, politically active audiences are on alert. However, in an increasing polarized political environment, there can be a dangerous radicalization of discourses in the digital sphere in which honest or perceived journalistic mistakes or misunderstandings might lead to long-term campaigns of aggressions, hostility, bullying or harassment targeting journalists.