Saturday, August 28, 2010

IFE and TEPJ at loggerheads over a crucial issue: What is illegal propaganda vs. what is an "interview"?

The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is well aware that something needs to be done to avoid a "perfect storm" ahead of 2012. Specifically, IFE is calling for a new electoral reform to decide, once and for all, what amounts to freely exercising journalism and the free flow of information through interviews with candidates, and what amounts to outright abuse of this mechanism, where "interviews" are merely thinly disguised propaganda for a candidate. The obvious case of Enrique Peña Nieto stands out here: The Mexico State governor continues to flaunt electoral laws such as the prohibition of propaganda by public officials by agreeing to a plethora of "interviews" that only serve to boast of his supposed achievements and drum up support for the  PRI. Yet many of the members of IFE's general council do not agree with TEPJF's recent decision on where to draw the line. 

(This is related to, but not identical, to the recent clampdown on president Felipe Calderón by the TEPJF, where the federal electoral tribunal deemed Calderón to have broken electoral as well as constitutional law by his "announcements" ahead of recent electoral contests).

Put simply, the TEPJF declared that a PAN candidate in Tabasco and his party, as well as the radio station, should be sanctioned for breaking electoral law, as the candidate held a total of nine interviews with the radio station. This was found to be excessive, and as a result both TEPJF and the radio station will be sanctioned in one way or another. 

But clearly we have many competing ideals here, as IFE is well aware of. 
- To what degree do interviews (radio, tv, newspapers, etc) extend to electoral propaganda?
- What is the difference between performing a public service - the free flow of information - and doing propaganda for a candidate?
- Is there a maximum limits for interviews? (nine? eight? five?)

- Should journalists, already under enormous pressures in Mexico, also work under the threat of possibly being sanctioned while merely doing their job of informing?

The burden here clearly falls on the IFE to draw the line, and the electoral institute is not all too happy of this enormous extension of its sphere of operation that the TEPJF's decision in practice entails for the IFE. 

To recall, the 2007-2008 reform set strict limits on political campaigning, such as granting parties a set amount of time/resources for electoral propaganda, yet banning the parties (and, to be sure, other actors such as business, NGSOs, the church, etc) from paying for further political advertising. 

Yet where does one draw the line between what is carrying out the crucial duty of political reporting, versus actively campaigning for a party through phony/paid "interviews"?

There is hardly an easy answer, but it is in my view of utmost importance that this line is clearly drawn ahead of 2012.

And may I also add: Mexico's neighbor to the north could very well use a revamping of its own electoral and media laws: Should Fox "News" really be allowed to operate as such when it  is not only acting as a propaganda arm for the Republican party and the nativist fringe "Tea Party" organizations,  but its owners even donate money to the party it is supposed to cover objectively as a news organization?

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