Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, April 04, 2014

Is reform the same as progress?

Sometimes reform doesn't look so good when you look at the details. Is this reform or a way to enthrone the PRI?

Critics check fine print in plan to break up Mexican monopolies
The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto says a proposed new telecommunications law would finally break up Mexico's powerful and much-criticized TV and telephone monopolies.

The proposal and other reforms have generated considerable praise abroad for Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled the country for seven decades…

But a growing number of domestic critics are reading the fine print of the telecommunications plan and finding many things to worry about.

For one, the increasingly powerful Interior Ministry would be charged with monitoring the content of television and radio broadcasts to be sure they conform to fairness and other regulations. Some Mexicans fear that would open the door to the kind of censorship that existed when the PRI ruled before, unfettered by little or weak opposition.

For years, most of Mexican television has been dominated by a single company, Televisa, the largest broadcaster in the Spanish-speaking world. (Most of the rest is controlled by another single company, TV Azteca.) That means that television in Mexico is heavy on low-brow soap operas and flashy celebrities, and there is a certain conformity to most TV news broadcasts, written and produced by a handful of people.

Meanwhile, telephone service, both land-line and cellular, is dominated by companies owned by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men, who has grown his businesses throughout Latin America. That means Mexicans pay some of the world's highest prices for some of the spottiest phone service.

Breaking up these near-monopolies is a welcome goal for many Mexicans. But it is unclear whether Peña Nieto's proposal will accomplish that, or, if so, at what other costs…

The problem with this reform — as with many — is that many Mexicans don't trust the PRI to execute it. It was the PRI's supposed attempts at freeing up television and phone service in the 1990s that led to today's monopolies because of the unfair advantages given powerful supporters.

But reaction has been mixed.

Javier Lozano, another PAN senator and head of the telecommunications committee in Congress, said he believed that the proposed law would promote much-needed competition and that it should come up for vote by the end of the month.

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