Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico

buyingcomplianceA virtually unregulated system of government advertising has distorted Mexico’s media landscape and corrupted the country’s media profession, according to a new report, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico.

Mexico’s media today face great difficulties. Physical attacks are all-too common, the shadow of state control has not fully faded, market concentration is extreme, and most media outlets have advanced little towards a democratic model to serve as an impartial watchdog on actions of government and other societal actors.

Any discussion of Mexico’s media situation must begin by explicitly recognizing—and condemning—ongoing assaults on journalists. Mexico is among the world’s most dangerous countries to practice journalism. Since 2000, over 77 journalists have been murdered. Another 17 have disappeared. This terrible violence is widely documented by Mexican and international press freedom groups.

The impact of these attacks is very powerful and very clearly leads to widespread self-censorship. But more subtle means also and perhaps more widely constrain media freedom in Mexico. “Soft censorship,” or indirect government censorship, includes a variety of actions intended to influence media—short of closures, imprisonments, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on journalists or media facilities.

This report focuses primarily on financial aspects of official soft censorship: pressures to influence news coverage and shape the broad media landscape or the output of specific media outlets or individual journalists through biased, and/or nontransparent allocation or withholding of state/government media subsidies, advertising, and similar financial instruments.

In Mexico, the allocation of Government advertising is the more common tool to exert soft censorship and is an integral part of the country’s complicated media landscape. Absent precise and clear rules, it is a means to influence or even a tool to blackmail media owners and journalists. Federal and local governments use official advertising to shape media outlets’ editorial line and push partisan agendas. Opaque and arbitraryallocation of official advertising constrains pluralism and a diversity of voices by selectively funding media outlets that support officials and their policies.

Some media owners actively partner with politicians in a corrupt symbiosis that earns both power and profit. Many Mexican media outlets have become addicted to public money, corrupting basic journalistic ethics. Articles praising or criticizing specific politicians are often offered primarily as leverage to negotiate more lucrative government advertising contracts.

Mexico’s very high level of ownership concentration in the television industry (largely dominated by only two players) is an important aspect of the soft censorship landscape. The growing economic clout of these two media businesses has magnified their influence on the country’s political life. These dominant companies often skew nominally democratic debates towards their self-interest.

Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico offers an overview and detailed examples of how a virtually unregulated system of government advertising has distorted Mexico’s media landscape and corrupted the country’s media profession. Refusal to license community radio stations as a constraint on media freedom is also addressed. The report does find some reasons for hope in efforts in a few states and by some media outlets to instill new integrity in both official and journalistic practice—and in pledges, as yet unfulfilled, by Mexico’s president and legislators to enact genuine change.

Another cause for guarded optimism is the 2013 Constitutional Reform on Telecommunications, which has the potential to make a profound change in Mexico´s media landscape and generate greater pluralism and competitiveness. This report’s key recommendations are a launching point for wider reforms urgently needed to help Mexico’s media fulfill its proper role in promoting democracy, pluralism, and accountability—rather than serving as an empty vessel to be filled with and driven by government advertising.

The findings of this paper, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico, are based  on  the results of the three-year (2010-2012) Official Publicity Project led by Fundar and the ARTICLE 19 Office for Mexico and Central America, with the support of the Open Society Foundations.  

It follows two reports published in January: Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia’s Media and Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media 

For more information on the Center for International Media Assistance, please explore our website or contact

Ecuador’s Communications Law: When Censoring a Cartoon Becomes a Presidential Priority


Since his reelection, President Rafael Correa has used a series of laws and decrees to constrain criticism and dissent. In June 2013, the National Assembly passed a restrictive communications law that designates the media as a public service subject to government regulation.

 Political cartoonist Xavier Bonilla was the first victim of this law following the publication of a cartoon that depicted the house raid of journalist Fernando Villavicencio. President Correa called Bonilla, among other things, “an assassin with ink.” Bonilla was forced to publish a correction, and El Universo paid a large fine.

Join the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance, Latin America & Caribbean Program and  Freedom House for a discussion on the restrictive nature of the communications law in Ecuador.


Xavier Bonilla

Political Cartoonist at El Universo

Martha Roldós

 Fundación Mil Hojas

Carlos Lauría      

Committee to Protect Journalists

 Wednesday, March 5

12:00-2:00 p.m.

Lunch will be served from 12:00-12:30

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800

Washington, DC 20004


How the Kremlin shapes media beyond Russia’s borders

satterrfeTwo new reports highlight how Russia has managed to curb independent media not only domestically, but also in former Soviet states, Linda Kinstler writes for the New Republic:

“The majority of news outlets, particularly those controlled directly by the state, prefer to cover Sochi the way they would cover a deceased man: in a positive light or not at all,” a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists explains. Another recent report, issued by Center for International Media Assistance [an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy] and authored by journalist David Satter (left, whom the Kremlin expelled from Russia five days after the report was published), meticulously documents the extent to which Putin has successfully disseminated pro-Russia propaganda in the former Soviet sphere.

Some examples of the ways in which the Kremlin influences media in former Soviet states include:

  • Three major TV networks dominate Belarus, and all three are Russian state channels. This has led to a majority of the population having a negative view of the protests in Ukraine. As Belarusian politician Sergey Kalyakin put it, Russian state media reports have emphasized that “all sorts of nationalists and criminals are taking part in the protests.”
  • This summer, after Lithuanian news site ran an article alleging Russian officials had rigged a Eurovision contest, the site received threats from Russia and was hit with a cyberattack ….

Read the rest.

Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey

Turkey’s democracy is in crisis. Shaken by last summer’s protests and a mounting corruption scandal, the government is lashing out at critics.  

A new report from U.S.-based Freedom House on Monday, slammed Turkey for a “frantic crackdown” on the media, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Numerous reports from leading press advocates—including New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, and Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, or IFJ—have called on Ankara to enact changes. Freedom House, a New York-based organization that promotes the spread of human rights and democracy, said the U.S. and the European Union also need to actively push Turkey to rise to international standards. 

Freedom House’s new report Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey puts the current crackdown in context, and lays out steps for Turkey, the EU, and the United States to protect democracy and a free media in Turkey. 

Freedom House invites you to a panel discussion of: Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey

Thursday, February 6, 2014. 10:00 – 11:30am. Newseum, Knight Conference Center, 8th floor conference level, 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001. 

Opening Statement: David J. Kramer, President, Freedom House


Steven A. Cook, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Susan Corke, Director of Eurasia Programs, Freedom House

Andrew Finkel, Co-founder of P24, an NGO supporting independent journalism in Turkey, and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group

Moderator: Carla Anne Robbins, Clinical Professor of National Security Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York

Click here to RSVP. Read the Wall Street Journal review of the report here.

Why journalists frighten Putin

The Kremlin’s decision to declare him persona non grata is more than an action against a single journalist, says David Satter, an adviser to Radio Liberty and senior fellow of the Hudson Institute.  

President Putin and his siloviki cronies “exercise not only unchallenged political power in Russia, they also control the country’s most valuable economic assets,” he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

“More important, the Putin system rests uneasily on unanswered questions from the past,” including the 2004 Beslan school massacre, the fates of murdered political opponents, Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova, and “most important of all is the question of who was responsible for the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia that served as the pretext for Moscow’s second war against the former Soviet republic of Chechnya,” he contends:

The bombings terrorized all of Russia, created a wave of patriotic fervor and swept the previously unknown Mr. Putin into the presidency. The Russian authorities blamed the bombings on Chechens, but when an unexploded bomb was discovered in the basement of one building, the terrorists were caught and proved to be agents of the Federal Security Service or FSB, a successor to the old KGB.

Unfortunately, the Russia that emerged out of the exposure of Soviet crimes quickly began to add crimes of its own, which had to be concealed with the help of new falsification. In my 2003 book, “Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State,” I wrote about the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia, which claimed 300 lives. A new Russian-language version in 2013 with the title “How Putin Became President” became a best seller.

“Under these circumstances, Russians need access to truthful information—which, given the censorship of Russian media, foreign sources are best able to provide,” Satter writes. “This is why the first expulsion of a U.S. correspondent is an ominous sign. It’s a way of closing off hope for a freer life and an act against Russians’ future and ours.” RTWT

Despite the rapid rise of the Internet and social media, authoritarian governments in China, AzerbaijanVietnamIranZimbabwe and Russia are finding ways to use state-controlled media to stay in power, according to Robert Orttung and Christopher Walker, writing in an essay published in the January issue of the Journal of Democracy.