Media legislation

Mexico’s print media legislation is outdated. Newspapers and magazines are in theory, still regulated by the Ley sobre delitos de imprenta (Press Act or Publishing Act), which was issued in 1917 in the context of the Mexican Revolution. This Act regulates issues regarding the ownership of physical infrastructures to print newspapers and some elements about public opinion and free speech. Since those days, this Act has been barely modified. This law is obsolete and, as readers can imagine, nobody uses or refers to this law when talking about newspapers’ and print media in general. Thus, print media in Mexico are regulated by the general laws of the country. However, in 2015, a new law was passed in order to regulate Mexican Constitution’s 6th article mandate about the right of reply. The law sets the procedures to enforce this measure.

Until recently, the legal base that sustained the monopolistic and duopolistic nature of the Mexican television industry had been the Ley Federal de Radio y Televisión (Radio and Television Federal Act), which ruled the industry during the second part of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. This regulation concentrated the regulatory power of the industry in the figure of the President. Mexican presidents were able to decide who could or could not own television channels and radio stations and, consequently, to control what could or could not be broadcasted through these media systems. Thus, throughout most of the 20th century, television and radio systems were appendixes of Mexican governments.

However, this order of things, at least in a legal dimension, changed in 2014 when legislators approved amendments to the Constitution and created a brand-new act to regulate broadcasting and telecom operators. Mexican lawmakers amended the articles six and seven of the Constitution. These amendments included granting the right to freedom of thought, opinion and expression, as well as the right to receive and produce information. Moreover, the Constitution grants that all Mexicans should have universal access to broadcast and telecom services. Up to now, the universal access to telecom services is far from being met.

Moreover, in 2014, legislators repealed the Radio and Television Federal Act and replaced it with the Ley Federal de Radiodifusión y Telecomunicaciones (Broadcasting and Telecommunications Federal Act). The new regulation brought new rules that meant to change the media landscape in four main elements—among other things: First, the new act cancelled the Presidential power of deciding who could own broadcasting and telecommunication systems and created the Instituto Federal de Telecommunications (Federal Telecommunications Institute), which is now in charge of regulating these industries; second, it limited economic concentration specifying that companies and holdings cannot own more than 50 percent of the market share; third, it allowed foreign investors to participate in the broadcasting and telecommunications markets; fourth, it modified the taxonomy of media ownership by recognising commercial, public, and social types of media ownership. It is too soon to evaluate the long-term impact of these reforms. However, the broadcasting and telecommunications industries have barely changed since 2014. As of 2018 there are no laws that regulate online content in Mexico and the new administration that came into office in December 2018 has not offered any information or signal of change.

One major legal change directly impacting media and investigative journalism occurred a few years after the political democratization of 2000, with the passing of the Act of Transparency and Access of Information. The Law enforced governmental branches and public-funded agencies at the federal level, to provide the structure and funding to guarantee the right to information in possession of any authority in a simple and timely manner. Social and political activism for this matter was instrumental to finally attain this long-awaited constitutional reform. Nowadays, thanks to this law, award-winning journalism is normally based on information requests to local Transparency and Access to Information institutes. Governmental branches are also obliged to publish their expenses in a public platform, including their communication budgets.

In 2018, a new act on Social Communication (Ley General de Comunicación Social) was passed in order to regulate public advertising spending in the media, establish the criteria to which the content of public communication and governmental campaigns should adhere, and regulate governmental communication during election time. It also establishes the obligation for the media willing to be eligible to receive advertising contracts to register in a directory, which so far has not been assembled for the case of electronic media. Given the clientelistic nature of media-politics relations throughout the past century, this law was widely expected by media observers and activists who campaigned for more transparent criteria to regulate the allocation of public and official advertisement contracts and therewith avoid the political instrumentalization of information. However, the law barely mentions any criteria for the allocation of contracts with respect to the social pertinence, quality, or public service of the targeted media outlets in question and instead focuses on the administrative procedures to be followed by public and governmental agencies and State branches when contracting advertising spaces.

Thanks to the new law, contracts might indeed be more thoroughly monitored in administrative and financial terms, as to not overpass the budget limits established by the Executive and Legislative branches, and also enables the expenses comparison across governmental agencies and their chosen media outlets. But, worryingly, contracts are still allocated discretionally, with opaque criteria guiding the decision as to what media gets selected to obtain the biggest advertising contracts and which ones are left out. Hence, nothing much has changed from previous times in that respect. Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration did recently established slightly better criteria in terms of the target medium’s public’s reach and equity across those outlets who fit the criterium, but still nothing guarantees that political advertising cannot be used as a political weapon or that smaller and independent outlets are considered.