Public policies and research on cultural diversity and television in Mexico.

Author:Lozano, Jose-Carlos
 
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The issue of how to preserve and promote cultural diversity through the mass media has been central in policy debates and regulations both in Europe and in North America. In the beginning of the 21st century, with the huge importance and technological developments of the mass media, the debate about how to reconcile the commercial imperatives of the media with the social goal of the promotion of cultural diversity has become even more crucial. More than any other cultural medium, the mass media (radio, television, and film, in particular) have become the arena where cultural supply is structured and where cultural identities are depicted and shaped. These media create, distribute, and promote the symbols and resources that are appropriated and redesigned by audiences. As Golding (1998) argued, the mass media "are unique in providing both

goods that command a critical place in the modern economy as well as providing the vehicles by which the symbols and values that people deploy in making sense of their lives are delivered and disseminated" (p. 16).

The idea of national audiences pertaining to a homogeneous group of people with similar interests, backgrounds, and ideas has never been in agreement with social reality and seems meaningless in the face of the processes of migration and multiculturalism that characterize contemporary countries and regions. This is the case in Mexico, with a heterogeneous audience with diverse ethnic, geographic, and class backgrounds that asks for plural public debates and access to the media.

What are the alternatives to promote and maintain cultural diversity in a country closely integrated with the United States, not just through economic trade but through the mass media? A starting point may be to discuss whether the media should fulfill a social role and whether they should be prompted or forced to promote cultural diversity. The answer to this question seems to be clear. The legal framework of Mexico, as is the case in Canada and the United States, expects the media, in particular electronic media, to promote diversity. The standing Radio and Television Federal Law in Mexico, although it does not explicitly mention the promotion of cultural diversity as a goal, mandates that radio and television stations foster gender equality and respect for the rights of vulnerable groups (Reglamento de la Ley Federal, 2003). It also explicitly prohibits any content that discriminates against ethnic groups (Ley Federal de Radio y Television, 1962, Art. 63).

As Freedman (2004) argued, references to diversity and pluralism appear in policy or legal documents that are highly deregulatory and liberalizing in character. This is true in a U.S. case, where a recent review by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of media ownership regulation ended in a decision to loosen ownership rules and sanction further cross-media ownership (Freedman, 2004). It is also true for the Mexican case, where federal administrations have advocated neoliberal policies from the mid-1980s to the present day (Lozano, 2003). Mexican audiovisual and telecommunications industries have experienced significant changes since the early 1980s, consolidated in the 1990s, and have dramatically transformed the supply and consumption of these services in the early 2000s. Many years before the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican government embraced trends and economic policies geared toward liberalization, deregulation, and privatization of the economy in general, and in particular the audiovisual and telecommunications sectors (Crovi, 2000; Gomez Mont, 2000; Sanchez Ruiz, 2000a). In contrast with the nationalistic and protectionist policies embraced by the different administrations since Mexico's independence in 1910 up to the 1970s, the 1980s represented a radical shift toward the adoption of neoliberal strategies and models. After a severe economic crisis in 1982, the administration of Miguel de la Madrid decided to open the economy in unprecedented ways. In his administration, Mexico joined the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the government privatized and deregulated many aspects of production and commerce. This was also true of Mexico's electronic media and telecommunications sector.

In the NAFTA negotiations, the Mexican government decided not to ask for a cultural exemption clause, unlike Canada, which had decided to exclude its cultural industries from the treaty to be better able to protect them. Following the logic of the neoliberal policies espoused by the Mexican administration, culture was considered strong enough to be able to defend itself without any governmental policies safeguarding it (Gomez, 2004). The only restrictions imposed by the Mexican government in the NAFTA agreement were limits to the percentage of foreign investment in paid television (49%); the requirement to dub imports in Spanish, and a quota of 30% of screen time in theaters for Mexican films (a quota that would decrease every year until reaching zero); and the prohibition of foreign nationals owning any percentage of broadcasting stations.

The consensus among communication scholars in Mexico--along with many of their colleagues in Canada and the United States--is that much more needs to be done to make sure the mass media will in fact promote and maintain cultural diversity. In fact, what is needed is the development and adoption of long-term communication policies because Mexico has never had a comprehensive state policy on media and telecommunications, only short-term reactions to what is already happening in the media market (Casas, 2006; Lozano, 2003).

This article uses as a basis for discussing cultural diversity policies in Mexico the analytical framework developed by Napoli (1999), who distinguished among three broad components of media diversity: source diversity, content diversity, and exposure diversity. Next, Napoli's components and subcomponents are used to review today's situation in Mexican television.

Dimensions of Diversity

Source Diversity

In many policy debates, source diversity is seen as the most important factor to foster diversity in the mass media. According to Napoli (1999), this dimension has been traditionally conceptualized by policymakers in three separate ways: "(a) in terms of the diversity of ownership of content or programming, (b) in terms of the diversity of ownership of media outlets, and (c) in terms of the diversity of the workforce within individual media outlets" (p. 9). The distinction between content ownership and outlet ownership is relevant only if networks buy their television content from independent companies that sell their programs to the networks. This was the case in the United States from 1970 to the early 1990s, due to the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (or "Fin-Syn") of the FCC that "constrained the then three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) from producing all but a small amount of the programs they broadcast in prime time and barred them from participating in the syndication of prime-time series" (Bielby & Bielby, 2003, p. 574). The goal of this policy was to force the owners of the channels of distribution to look for independent producers for sources of programming. The rules attempted to promote diversity and competition in the supply of prime-time entertainment programming and to forestall vertical integration. In the mid-1990s the FCC removed these regulations, allowing the networks to either produce their own prime-time programming or to continue buying it from independent producers. The result, according to Bielby and Bielby, has been "a reduction in the number of organizational settings in which those who create television series are employed, and an increase in corporate control over the circumstances under which they practice their craft" (p. 593).

Mexican regulations have never put any constraints on Mexican media networks in relation to in-house productions. Television conglomerates like Televisa and TV Azteca are free to produce whatever percentage of programming they want, and there are no policies or incentives that may prompt them to buy programming from national independent sources. In fact, both networks handle their total national programming in-house (Estrada, 2004). In its beginnings, due to its lack of experience and capital to produce all of its programming in-house, TV Azteca made an alliance with Argos Producciones, an independent producer that provided the network with successful telenovelas like Nada Personal (1996), Mirada de Mujer (1997), and Demasiado Corazon (1998). By the end of the 1990s, however, TV Azteca decided to produce all of its programming and reduced the number of hours produced by Argos from 5 to 1 daily, and later completely broke off its relationship with the independent company. Televisa, on the other hand, had the tradition of producing everything in-house and was not interested in buying content from independent producers. In 2000, Argos signed an agreement with Telemundo in the United States. Today, this network broadcasts Argos productions on its TV affiliates and participates in their distribution and commercialization in other countries (Lord, 2005). Argos president Epigmenio Ibarra has publicly asked for a license to start a new TV channel, criticizing the existing duopoly, but the government and current regulations have not allowed that to happen.

This situation in the Mexican media market reflects the historical disinterest of federal officials in tackling the issue of how to foster diversity in the national television system. The issue of how to make companies that control the distribution of content to the audience balance their own productions with alternative and independent sources of production has not been addressed.

In many countries of the world, media policies promoting diversity have focused mainly on curbing the concentration of...

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