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ANALYZING BRITISH CORRESPONDENTS IN
THEIR TALES OF MEXICO: A UK STUDY
ALEJANDRO CÁRDENAS LÓPEZ
This dissertation is submitted to the School of Journalism, Media and
Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, in partial f ulfilment of the requirements
for the Master of Arts Degree of International Journalism
All my respect and gratitude for the patience and high standards of my dissertation
tutor Thor Ekevall, and to the memory of Geoff Mungham and his ability to teach by
example and take care of his students. Both have guided not just a master’s degree
but a part of my life. I appreciate their open minds and flexibility w ith regards to
journalism, politics, freedom of speech and academia.
I w ould also like to thank all the colleagues that have supported me during this year
w ith their experience, their cultures, their care and the confidence, especially Nilou,
Hams, Kholood, Sara, Norry and Vanessa.
My gratitude to the British Council and the Thomson Foundation as main founders of
I w ant to mention also all my colleges in the Mexican media and the interview s in
London and Mexico w ith British correspondents.
Finally I w ill never f orget the invaluable support from all the members of my family:
Olga Azucena, Ramon, Raul and Azucena.
And of course I w ill thank God as father and mother, an idea from natives in Latin
The increase in the commercial relations betw een the United Kingdom and Mexico
has brought more interest from British media. They have presence in newspapers,
radio and TV, but especially print media has detected and cultivated the relations of
the two countries, especially financial.
There are around 15 British correspondents in Mexico w hose primary interest is in
business, then culture, tradition and politics, but they tend to mislead audiences
w hen reporting extraordinary events, like disasters or tragedies.
Their coverage can be seen to be as influential as the presence of US media,
especially w ith the Mexican government and local media, but none of them have
penetrated the most pow erful media: commercial television.
From the perspective of Mexican journalists, the British and other European media
reflect a different new s angle from the high presence of US media in Mexico.
Despite the largely quiescent political and diplomatic relations betw een the UK and
Mexico, the increase of British foreign investment indicates a regard for the Aztec
country as an emerging economy. A case study about the coverage by the Financial
Times related to the financial irregularities of a charity led by Marta Sahagún de Fox,
the Mexican president’s w ife, w ill illustrate the discussion.
ESSAY ONE: Literature Review : Historical relations in a media-savvy w orld………10
ESSAY TWO: The influence of objectivity in the British Media to Mexico………..…18
ESSAY THREE: Don’t mess w ith the president’s w ife unless you are the
Financial Times: A case study……………………………………………...….…..….…23
AERTICLE ONE.-Mexico in the English papers: exotic, distant and different.
A content analysis…..…………………………………………………………………….32
ARTICLE TWO.-Mexico: an emerging market w ith bad news to the w orld. …..…...46
ARTICLE THREE.-British correspondents in Mexico: Covering a w ild country……56
ARTICLE FOUR.- Mexican view of British media. The influence of foreign new s…70
APPENDIX 1: Cultural relations mirrored through the British press…….…………83
APPENDIX 2: Letter to the editors: (Our) America is not the United States.……..86
APPENDIX 3: US and UK news for Mexico: regulation diff erences.………… ……93
APPENDIX 4: Foreign new s structure in the UK…………………………………….100
APPENDIX 5: 1867: Reuters’ first dispatch about Mexico.…………………………102
APPENDIX 6: BBC in Latin America…………………………………………………..106
APPENDIX 7: The Independent covering Mexican floods…………………………..107
APPENDIX 8: Extracts from January’s Financial Times article……………………..108
APPENDIX 9: Mexican financial new s slump and 80s tragedies…………………...110
APPENDIX 10: Infosel: The Mexican Bloomberg?..................................................112
Who are these strange faces in Mexico?
Palefaces, yellowfaces, blackfaces? These are no Mexicans!
Where do they come from, and why?
Lord of the Two Ways, these are the foreigners.
They come out of nowhere.
Sometimes they come to tell us things,
Mostly they are the greedy ones.
What then do they want?
They want gold, they want silver from the mountains,
And oil, much oil from the coast.
They take sugar from the tall tubes of the cane,
Wheat from the high lands, and maize;
Coffee from the bushes in the hot lands, even the juicy rubber.
They put up tall chimneys that smoke,
And in the biggest houses they keep their machines, that talk
And work iron elbows up and down,
And hold myriad threads from their claws!
Wonderful are the machines of the greedy ones!
The Plumped Serpent, D.H. Laurence
“One bad decision after another. Travel back far enough through history and, if
you are feeling uncharitable, you can lay the blame at the door of the Incas.”1
This story published in the Guardian in May 2004 was not about the ancient empire
from Peru, but about the Aztecs; it was called Why is Mexico City sinking? How could
a British new spaper make such ridiculous mistake, confusing tw o of the biggest
American pre-Hispanic civilisations?
After many complaints from their readers, two days later they corrected the mistake
brightly, explaining the confusion.2 The story w as published in the science pages, so
it is perhaps understandable that the reporter w as not very know ledgeable on Latin
The embarrassing story about the Incas reflects part of the sloppiness of the British
media, not just of The Guardian, despite being one of the most balanced and
trustw orthy papers. 3
The fact that it passed through at least one editor, and one
subeditor and nobody took it up, show s the level of ignorance about Mexico.
The article about the Incas w as w ritten in London, but most of the correspondents in
Mexico w ould not make such mistakes.
This dissertation will discuss the extent of such ‘deviances’ and other circumstances
that can affect the coverage of British journalists in Mexico. Of course, this isolated
case would not undermine the w hole process, but w hich process? To answ er this is
important to identify not just political and economical factors, but cultural beliefs
betw een these tw o countries. The question is: How Mexican journalists quote and
evaluate the British media?
A starting point is a study by the British Journal of Psychology that analyzed
specifically the rational and magical thinking in Britain and Mexico and the influence
w ithin these belief s in public opinion, the government and Mexican journalists.
1 Guardi an, May 6 2004, p. 2.
2 The newspaper published the next correction: The Aztecs, or Mexica, built the original city of Tenochtitlan
after they settled and then dominated the Valley of Mexico from the 12th to the 16t h centuries. The Incas
originated around Lake Titicaca on the border between Peru and Bolivia, but their empire extended only as far
north as Ecuador and Colombia (Guardian, 2004, p. 21).
3 The Guardian is one of the most respected newspapers in the UK since it started as The Manchester Guardian
1821. Then in 1964, the paper moved t o London to the national market. Since 1936
Guardian Media Group, who
publish the Guardian and Observer, is owned of by the trustees of the Scott Trust, which “ also has the duty to
maintain a secure financi al footing for the business” (Guardian, 2002).
Within their conclusions they found that British people believe that science is the only
w ay to account for natural events, and contrary Mexicans w ould be more tolerant
toward magical explanations. The media are one of the factors af fecting these
that w ill lead this discussion.
Tw o styles w ill guide this dissertation: academic and journalistic. The academic part
w ill be conducted in three essays: the first one is a review of the literature about the
topic dealing w ith international communication and theoretical discussions betw een
Britain and Mexico, their media corporations and their correspondents. The second is
an evolution of new s values spread to the world, especially the meaning of objectivity
and the latest debates about it. The third article is a case study about the controversy
betw een the Financial Times and the Mexican first lady in January 2004, the
coverage of the irregularities of her charity and the political scandal follow ing it. This
w as a crucial and unique situation that ref lected how a foreign paper can influence a
country, its media and public opinion, and force powerful figures to act in response.
Section tw o includes four articles. The first one, a six month quantitative content
analysis about the coverage of Mexico in the British press, that explores the pattern
of the coups and disaster syndrome, but also topics related to business, tourism and
Both, the content analysis and the academic part of the dissertation, are directed to a
British audience: journalists, academics, government and, of course, ordinary
readers. In opposition to conventions, the methodology is explained at the beginning
of each chapter if it is required.
The last three journalistic articles discuss the coverage and primary data from around
20 interview s w ith editors, international correspondents, reporters and media
analysts from Mexico and the United Kingdom.5 They are w ritten mainly for a
Mexican audience as analytical features, in a style that w ould be used in a Mexican
magazine. That is w hy bullet style (or numbering) w hich are not common in a UK
new spaper, w ould readily be in a magazine as in a separate box.
The three articles reflect the view of British reporters interview ed in the United
Kingdom and in Mexico City, and Mexican reporters interview ed in both capitals. The
main objectives w ere to discover what the actors w ithin the news process think about
their work? What are the media relations betw een the tw o countries? And w hich
aspects have not been covered?
Some of the interview ees only accepted to talk off-the-record and the information
provided by them is not directly attributed. The latter might be referred to as a w ell
placed source, a senior journalist or media analyst. There are widely accepted terms
to cover such eventualities as the wish for anonymity –as w itnessed in the British
4 The journal says: In W estern culture an individual is encouraged (by school education, media, art, interpersonal
communication and other cultural impacts )…in a non-Western society the ‘ pressure’ of scientific rationality on
an individual is substantially less evident—due to the lack of formal scientific education and the abundance of
pre-Christian magical beliefs and superstitions.(Subbotsky-Quinteros, 2002, pp. 519-543).
5 The four articles are based on interviews face to face, by email and telephone realized in London and Mexi co
City. The questions for British correspondents were: 1.-W hy is your media is interested in Mexico? How do you
cover Mexico, topics, sources? W hat do you think about Mexican journalism? And how is it to report in Mexico
and what is your relation with the government and companies? Mexican journalists were asked: What do you
thing about British media? How and when do you quote the British media? What is the influence of their stories
in the Mexico? And how do they cover Mexico?
Lobby system. Most of the interview s and quotes from the Mexican press and books
in Spanish w ere translated to English by the author. The journalistic articles also
include footnotes w hen is important to give a context for a British audience.
The second article, (the first journalistic one) is a chronicle of the evolution and
grow th of the Mexican economy and financial reporting f rom the 70s, through the
devastating 80s, the 90s political crisis, and at the same time the contradictory
development as a successf ul emerging market.
The third article explores the view s of British correspondents covering the biggest
Spanish speaking country in the w orld, and the commercial agreements betw een
radio, TV and newspapers. The last one reveals how Mexican journalists think about
the British media: Are the British more important than those from the US in
new srooms? How do they quote them? What is their influence in Mexico?
The 10 appendixes are short topics that are not directly related to the main topic, but
that will give a w ider angle of the context. The little articles w ill help to understand
process and illustrate examples related to the main topics of each article and essay,
and will be indicated if necessary.
Polite people covering savages
When a correspondent arrives in Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City they w ould
need a process of understand w hat Alan Riding, a British correspondent that covered
Mexico in the 70s, calls the ‘complex Mexican society.’6
To start ‘digesting’ the essence of the country they w ill learn that modern Mexico
unlike other Latin American countries has not been destabilised by the Church and
the Army, and the post-revolutionary armed forces in 1910 never developed an
aristocratic officer class.7
Now , f our years after the old ruling party lost the presidency in 2000, Mexico is still in
a transition to democracy.8 Among other things, all decisions in the political arena are
prematurely focused on the 2006 presidential election, as w itnessed by the fact that
tax and electrical reforms have been delayed, and the congress is ruled by the
The Historian Jean Meyer also goes to the core of the matter: the danger is not just
that many people w ill be disillusioned about real democracy, but that it is happening
w hen there is still much hunger and poverty that has not been solved. “People are
not interested in freedom, because they are starving.”9
6 Riding describes Mexico as a country that evolved from ever-present pre-Colombian roots and the Spanish
conquest that has produced the most "mestizo" nation in Latin America (Financi al Ti mes, July 18 1987,
Saturday, p. 14). He wrote two books about Mexico. The first one “ Distant Neighbours” in 1984, a portrait of the
Mexicans; the second “ Inside the Volcano”, where he asserts that Mexico as a nation searches endlessly for an
identity: hovering ambivalently between ancient and modern, traditional and fashionable, Indian and Spanish,
Oriental and W estern. And it is both the clash and the fusion of these roots that the complexity of Mexico
resides. (Riding, 1989, p. 3.)
7 Financial Times, July 18 1987, p. 14.
8 One of the most infl uential journalists, Rafael Loret de Mola, explains that the political crisis can be defined as
communicative worry in the media and a collective uneasiness in society that stimulates political persuasions in
the government (Zocalo, Julio 21, 2004)
9 Reforma, June 19 2004, p. 21.
According to Ronald Buchanan, an Irish-Mexican journalist, w ho has lived in Mexico
City for 18 years and reported for Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and
others, it is kind of difficult to explain politics in Mexico:
The (so called)10 democratic transition is an extension of the old system, with a
privileged group, the powerful political groups. It’s very similar to the way it
worked in the past, to the extent that instead of fighting internally within the PRI,
now there are most separate parties.11
The Mexican anthropologist Roger Bartra has dedicated much time to study the
construction of Mexican and Latin American subjectivity and European fascination
w ith it. Amazingly, in the last 30 years the British press has not w ritten anything about
him, just one article the Times, about an art exhibition in Spain:12
…a fascination with our inner selves and primitive ancestors has been a
powerful force in Western culture, and its artistic representations are marked by
the need to distinguish ourselves from any existing "savages.”13
Hispanic America, the biggest number of countries w orldw ide speaking the same
language, joins the same race and sustains similar ancient cultures. Widespread
debate among Latin American sociologists and social theorists has risen on the
question of w hether or not countries in the region are modern and is related to the
place of Indian cultures.14 After 500 years, sixty percent of the population in Mexico is
mixed-blood race or mestizo, around 30% are Indians and 10% w hite.15 This is w hy
Indian cultures are one essential part of Mexican culture in one side, and racial
mixing constitutes another part, the Western one: this is considered the starting point
for understanding Mexico's version of modernity.16
Bartra believes that the Mexican syncretism has helped hegemonic groups to convey
the idea of an identity above cultural and class differences, and “such an identity has
been a key element in the f ormation of a capitalist state, w hich seeks to hide the
multifaceted character of the country.”
After some lessons of this beliefs, the correspondents w ould also have to read one of
the most complete portraits of the Mexicans; “Labyrinth of Solitude” w ritten in 1950
by the Literature Novel Price Octavio Paz. His essay is a historic description of the
Mexican identity, the mix of cultures, the sense of death and life, and the European
10 My words.
11 Buchanan, 2004.
12 A search in Lexis Nexis with the name “ Roger Bartra“ in “ UK newspapers” will show just one articl e, most of
the results are in Mexican newspapers and magazines like Nexos, La Jornada or Es te País, and Europeans like
Le Mond from France and El País from Spain. Some US media did quoted him, but no more than two
13 Times, February 25, 2004, p. 15.
14 Another import ant figure that analyzed Mexican culture was the Mexican Novel Lit erature Prize Octavio Paz.
He argues that historically Anglo-Saxon America inherited the critical ideas of 18th century Europe and the
Reformation, Hispanic America was heir to the Catholic universal monarchy. (Paz, 1979. Cited by Herrera,
1998, pp. 105-115).
15 Census Mexican Population, 2000.
16 Ibi d.
17 Other classic books about Mexican identity have been written by writ ten by characters like Elena
Poniatowska, Fernando Benitez, Roger Bartra, Leopoldo Zea or Enrique Krauze.
I might be easier for them to find guides about Mexico. For instance, a reference is
BBC reporter Nick Caistor, a translator of Latin American w riters into English w ho
has w ritten tourists guides about Mexico.
According to him the best of Mexico is in the pre-Hispanic and Hispanic w orld, the
Mexican revolution and the modern Mexico. This mixture interests a lot:
You do not look at a Mexican as any person; it’s a very strong civilization, with
different shades and very deep roots. There are also contrasts like the mega
polis of Mexico City and the country side; it is a beautiful country, I like
He w rote the volume Mexico City, as part of the series ‘Cities of the Imagination’, that
describe the contrasts of Mexico:
Where the air is clear showed the chaos of urban life, the way the city had been
torn down and rebuilt, and the way that people had been sucked in from the
countryside and lived chaotic lives, full of want, and difficulty and poverty. And
yet, at the same time, Mexico City offers people the opportunity to get out of that
rural boredom and crushing life of the peasant."19
18 Caistor, 2004.
19 BBC Mundo, 2003.
Historical relations in a media-savvy world
Information is power in the foreign policy sense.
Bernard Cohen, The Press and Foreign Policy
In 180 years of diplomatic relations betw een Mexico and Britain, the evolution of
media industries has transformed the development of their political foreign policies.
Historical research, new spapers and communication theories can contribute to
understanding this process.20
Mexico’s geo-political role as a junction in the 19th Century betw een Europe and the
Pacific, and as a strategic neighbour ‘ally’21 of the United States in the 20th
has forged economical and political interests betw een these tw o countries of Morris
and Mariachi. To study Britain – as a former Empire, and one of the main actors
w ithin the international media flow of information and their tradition of freedom,
pluralism and aggressiveness, is important to understand their foreign affairs and
In this context the approach to British media w ill focus on their economic and political
interests in Mexico, especially in the early 19th Century identif ying three important
1.-Expanding the commercial interests of the Empire.
2.-Industry and manufacturing in the early 20th Century.
4.-The information battle w ith the US to control Latin America.
The origins of international communications23 are based on international relations
theories dating back to the early 19th
Century. In those days the free-market
economy w as promoted by economist Adam Smith, w hich favoured competition
betw een individuals and corporations free of government intervention. In the late 19th
20 Hansen et al, 1997, p. 67.
21 Foreign relations between Mexico and the United States have always been esoteric, violent and economically
dependant. Three wars in more than 100 years related to the decrease of European influence in the 19th Century,
and the supremacy of the US in the 20t h. The influence is reflected in Mexican society has been a perpetual
conspiracy, especially after 1867 when the US Civil War ended (Katz, 1981, pp 120-136). Even recently, in
December 2003, the Mexican former United Nations officer, Adolfo Aguilar Zinzer resigned because he
mentioned the old nationalist quote: ‘Mexico is the backyard of the United States’ (El Universal, 2003, p 1).
Thus Anti-Americanism has grown in the l ast years; a survey in 2000 says that in Mexico, 67% of respondents
held a “good” or “ very good” opinion of t he United States. That figure has fallen in 2003 to 53%, while 39%
now hold a “bad” or “very bad” opinion, up from 18% in 2000 (Latinobarometro Chile, 2003).
22 In recent years academic studies have raised i ssues about communication within societi es and exploration of
historical developments in communicat ion systems. Hansen says: “ We need to be aware of the complex forces
when policies are been made. He warns about what a particular policy is: in a single document, a series of
documents, a speech by a minister, a paper from a minister? Each of these will cont ain different clues to ‘the’
policy in question (Hansen et al, 1997, pp. 68-86).
23 As a field of international relations, the concept of ‘international communications’ refers to the field of study
that attracted attention of social scientists in the 1970s.
century Karl Marx confronted the beginning of modern capitalism due to a grow ing
gap betw een the capitalist and working classes.24
At the peak of the British Empire, Marx proposed a socialist society in w hich the
government w ould control the production and distribution of w ealth. Free-market
capitalism versus state controlled socialism: these w ere the two ideologies that
shaped international communications in the Cold War era from 1945 to 1989.25
Diplomatic relations started in the1820s w ith the first British representative in the
‘new continent’26 just after Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810. Britain
w as Spain’s ally because the British Empire needed to prevent Spain f rom becoming
w eak in the European diplomatic system; the interest w as clearly commercial and
w as reflected afterw ards in the plundering of natural resources.
Britain had direct influence in Central America since the 18th century w ith colonies
like Guyana, Belize, Jamaica and the Antilles. But Mexico and Latin America w ere
part of the ‘British informal Empire’, territories w hich w ere not ruled directly, but w hich
had important influence of industrial and commercial pow er.27 Britain, as the w orld
financial centre became Mexico’s principal creditor in the 1820s, and started
investing in silver, raw materials and railw ay.
The Mexican-American War in 1946-48
The first big event covered by the British press and related to the new ly Independent
Aztec country was the Mexican-American War in 1846-48, fighting for Texas.
During that time the British Empire had settled in India and Hong Kong. Locally the
British press, w hich had been active since the 17th
century, w as fighting for its
tradition of freedom,28 w hich w as gained later in the 1860s w ith the emergence of
radical press and the repeal of press taxation. According to Curran and Seaton,
during this time a section of commercial press became more politically independent
as a consequence of the grow th of advertising and the emergence of the mass
circulation press. The most influential new spapers w ere the Times, The Republican
and the Observer.29
The coverage of the Mexican-American w ar by the leading new spaper, the Times,
show s the premature concern of Britain over US expansionism in Latin America:
The Times fulminated against the immorality of slavery and of the southern
scheme to annex Texas as a slave state, while exposing America’s imperialist
ambitions as, among other things, an attempt to shore up the nation’s fragile
stability through the escape valve of western migration .30
Mexico lost the w ar sold almost half of its territory in 1848, and then country started a
bloody civil w ar that lasted until 1861. At the end of the revolt the new president
Benito Juarez, a native indigenous and nationalist, suspended payments to its
24 Gudykunst, 2002, p. 5.
25 Ibi d.
26 Mexican Embassy in the UK, 1996.
27 Crystal, 2002, p. 227.
28 The Times editor John Delane, formulated the doctrine that newspapers had the right to maintain thei r
independence (McBride, 1988, p. 9).
29 Curran-Seaton, 1993, p. 11.
30 Karush, 2004, n.d.
European creditors Spain, Britain and France, w ho instantly demanded military
action. The French attacked Mexico from 1963-67, supported morally by the British
and Spain. Mexico w as helped politically by the United States just af ter the end of
their Civil War, and Juarez expelled the old traditional French Foreign Legion from
Tw enty years latter, in the 1880s, General Porfirio Diaz established a military
dictatorship that lasted 30 years, and like most of these type of regimes, he created
economical stability in spite of its violent and repressive actions. This pro European
regime encouraged the presence of British banks, as w ell as other political and
cultural relationships w ith the old continent, especially w ith France.32
During that time global media developed haltingly in Europe in the nineteenth
century, especially in France and Britain. New spapers and periodicals w ere w ritten
almost exclusively for domestic audiences and to this day new spapers remain the
media industry that is least integrated into the global media system.33
Despite the fact that domestic new s has alw ays dominated the British press,34 most
of the stories related to Mexico came from the United States. For instance, w hen the
era of press barons w as due to start in Victorian Britain35 the Daily News, published
on May 31, 1886 a one paragraph story noted as being from New York:
A dispatch from Mexico announces that President Diaz has ordered the National
Bank to place at the disposal of the Mexican financial agent in London a
sufficient amount to meet the first coupon of the Consolidated Debt due on July
Before the fall of Diaz the role of the firm of engineering contractors S. Pearson &
Son who had become a leading contractor to Mexico's government during his
regime.37 This company latter founded the Financial Times and the Economost, tw o
of the most influential foreign papers in Mexico.
Oil and Mexican nationalism
In 1910 the Mexican revolution, a bloody civil war that popularized the guerrilla
legends (Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa), is considered by historians as the
starting point of the industrialized, modern and democratic Mexico.
After the revolution the special relationship w ith Britain ended w ith a silent battle f or
Mexican oil betw een American and British companies, until the nationalisation of the
Mexican oil industry in 1938 by the autonomist president Lazaro Cardenas.
While Mexico w as recovering from a bloody 19th Century, the pioneering efforts of
new s agencies that developed early in the 20th
Century, contributed to the
emergence of the mass daily press.38 In the first decades the French and British
31 Geraghty, 1986, pp. 80-91.
32 Skirius, 2003, p. 25.
33 Herman, 1997, p. 12.
34 Guardian, 1st October 2001, p. 2.
35 Currey-Seaton, 1993, p.50.
36 Online British Library, 2003.
37 Pearson bought large areas of l and, and was permitted to exploit the rich deposits of oil that he found and
formed the Mexican Eagl e Oil company, a l arge supplier to the US. (Times, November 10, 2003, p. 29).
38 MacBride et al, 1988, p. 9.
empires still had a solid structure in the communication industry; according to the US
academic Herbert I. Schiller this w as an important role in the colonial system:
The British global imperial preferences that tied together that colonial system’s
network of dependencies and sealed them off from possible commercial
penetration by other entrepreneurs.39
At the end of First World War, Britain controlled the physical hardw are of sub oceanic
cables.40 This strengthened European and US positions and led to a rapid expansion
of w orld trade, w hich demanded immediate and vastly improved communication
Communications technologies at the beginning of the century w ere crucial for the
functioning of the telegraph and radio, since they enabled Western new s agencies
such as Reuters and AFP to complete the ‘cartels’ controlling the international flow of
new s.42 How ever, the first challenge to their monopoly arrived w ith Associated Press
from the United States, w hen it started supplying new s to the Spanish-speaking
continent in the 1930s. This new agency, subsided by their government, began to
expand internationally, parcelling political changes in Europe w ithin the w eakening of
the European empires.43
During these years the British press started an industrialisation process, and
established a debate about the international flow of new s, a discussion determined
by the organisation of the new s-processing companies,44 in other w ords, the
framew ork of news values that Curran and Seaton detect:
In order to get made into news, events have to happen in places convenient for
the newsgathering agencies, to be of a recognised and acceptable kind, come
from a reliable and predictable source, and fit into journalists’ framework of
news values. These rules and habits have become worldwide.45
The diplom atic flow of new s
In the beginning of World War II, almost all governments around the w orld set up
“information” and “propaganda” agencies, hired public relations firms, and organised
regular and systematic “briefing” meetings and lavish diplomatic parties to influence
their foreign and domestic audiences.46
For instance in World War II, w hen political propaganda structures w ere sharpened,
British diplomats easily established in Mexico a secret propaganda plan w ith France
to sw ay public opinion against Germany. This w as done in just three months time
39 Richstad-Anderson, 1981, p. 164.
40 They had a criti cal advantage in its control of the copper and gutta-percha markets –the raw materials for the
manufacture of cable – since the world rates were fixed in British mining companies, which owned copper
deposits and mines in Chile, the world’s biggest producer (Richstad-Anderson, 1981, p. 165).
41 Ibi d.
42 Gudykunst, 2002, p. 5. [Complementary information in APPENDIX 4: “ US and UK news for Mexico:
regulations differences” on page 125].
43 Thussu, 2000, p. 21.
44 Curran-Seaton, 1993, p. 277.
45 Ibi d.
46 Gudykunst, 2002, p. 8.
and supported by Havas news agency,47 diplomats, corporations and local
During that time, European media companies like Havas, Reuters, the BBC and
Pearson invested in Mexico and Latin America, concerned by US cultural and
The theories of the Frankf urt School formulated from the 1920s become a central
element in the debate: it is necessary to analyse the form of the media and the w ay
in w hich they are used, and not only the content of the message.50 These
assumptions generated an interesting debate on the role of communication w ith
regard to cultural identity and intercultural aspects.51
This diplomatic flow of information as the most traditional form, changed af ter the
advent of modern communication technology and the emergence of
nongovernmental actors. This w as more orientated to the masses, w hat researchers
called “public diplomacy”, particularly sensitive to public opinion.52
The dangerous order of media theories
During the 70s, international communication increasingly captivated the attention of a
grow ing number of social scientists w ho challenged the role of the dominant new s
agencies. The concept of Cultural Imperialism introduced by Herbert I. Schiller,53 and
other studies from Armand Mattelart, a Belgian academic based in Chile, w ith the
famous book How to Read Donald Duck, Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic,
censored in the US.54
The idea of the Free Flow of Information from the United States was confronted by
these scholars and supported by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO) in the 70s.55
This institution w as crucial in appointing
scholars to investigate the imbalance in the w orld new s stream through the active
presence of Third World academics and journalists. They proposed instead a New
World Information and the Communication Order (NWICO).56 In Mexico researchers
like Guillermo Orozco and Nestor Garcia Canclinni contributed to the debate.57
47 The French news agency was also subsided by the government and later became Agence France Press.
48 Riblo, 1983, pp. 112-126.
49 [For more information see SECTION 2. ARTICLE 2 “British correspondents in Mexico: Covering a wild
50 Gudykunst, 2002, p. 5.
51 The theoretical conception of int ercultural communications began in the 1950s during the Cold W ar, but took
place in the 1970s (Gudykunst, 2002, p. 7). This new area of research has grown during the last several decades
and become a legitimate area of inquiry. The paradigm was pro Western and anti communist in ideology
(Mowlana, 1998, p. 5).
52 Ibi d.
53 Schiller is a critical scholar at the University of California, claimed that this cultural penetrat ion was in the
name of the Free Flow of Information (Gudykunst, 2002, p. 7).
54 Ibi d.
55 MacBride et al, 1988, pp. 34-43.
56 The Colombian literature Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote for UNESCO: More democratic
communication structures are a national and international need of peoples everywhere promoting access,
participation, decentralisation, open management, and the diffusion of the power, concentrated i n the hands of
commercial or bureaucratic interest s. This particularly in third world countries dominated by repressive minority
regimes.( MacBride et al, 1988, p. 281).
57 Canclini, 1999.
Several Western countries how ever, objected that it was an attempt by Third World
and Communist dictatorships to destroy the freedom of the press. The United States
and Great Britain w ithdrew from UNESCO in 1985 and 1986 respectively because of
the NWICO debate.58
The academics pointed to paternalism and lack of ethno-culture in the West’s
supposedly ‘idealistic approach’ to assisting developing nations w ith Western
information and communication technologies. In the media this w as show n by the
relatively greater attention to Europe and the United States, and the emphasis on
disasters, coups, revolutions and other negative new s about Latin America, Africa
Schiller w arns that the concentration of international new s dissemination has given
rise to charges of media imperialism “the dependence of domestic media systems on
dominant foreign media systems: Western news purveyors slight the happenings and
the information needs of people in developing nations.”60 Thussu gave a Latin
The critics started with the gap between rich and poor people, the concern was
the validity of the developmental project and the fact that modernization
programs were exacerbating the already deep social and economical
The theoretical debate w as influenced by a sociological framew ork until the 80s and
Structural functionalist theories applied in the modern age claimed that the
influence of certain social structures considerably modify the information flow.63 Now ,
the most recent ideas of the internationalisation of media corporations in the United
Kingdom, especially broadcasting, that supersede and complement the freedom and
dependent theories of the sixties and seventies.
Broadcasting a smaller world
In the last half of the 20th
Century, Britain continued as a creditor for Mexico before
the development boom and the creation of international institutions and media
corporations established in the region. Today Britain is one of the biggest investors in
Mexico, having been number one in the 19th
The media progressively globalises and the commercial significance is accomplished
by different concerns, like the market position of new s organisations, depending on
advertising and revenues, searching for formulas to address new audiences, and the
strategic important new spapers fostering politicians and elite groups.65
The real development of international broadcasting w as to be a propaganda tool on
both sides of the w orld.66 In contrast to the US and German TV state model, the
58 Gudykunst, 2002, p. 7. The UK rejoined in 1997, and the US until 2003.
59 Ibi d.
60 MacBride et al, 1988, pp. 34-43.
61 Thussu, 2000, p. 59.
62 Ibi d.
63 Manning, 2001, p. 23.
64 Mexican Embassy in the UK, 1996.
65 Manning, 2001, p. 23.
66 The first radi o transmission of human voi ce in 1903 was developed with military interests in mind, but it was
consolidated during the Second W orld War.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) prided itself in presenting mature, balanced
view , w inning by argument rather than hammering home a point.67
In the beginning of the 20th century the press w as no longer the dominant source of
political know ledge, and TV and radio broadcasting emerged as the most pow erful
media.68 They changed production practices, especially w ith international news.69
Ralph Negrine states that this economic internationalisation of media can destabilise
established national media practices, because enterprises increasingly need large
sums of capital that they can not afford to devote to foreign interests. So now,
individual media institutions are likely to survive either in isolation or as independent
trading units. He addresses the consequences:
Adhering to such notions as balance and impartiality may be justifiable in a
national context, though even this is increasingly suspect, in the international
context these ideas and their attendant practices will appear meaningless.70
Covering foreign new s is much more difficult f or journalists than domestic new s
because staf f levels are smaller, research facilities are more limited, language
barriers are troublesome, and transmission difficulties may be enormous.71 According
to Doris Graber there are more concerns:
Space and limitation of time in stories, because foreign events are often
unintelligible without adequate background information or interpretation… some
confusion of individual stories has risen from the fact that many stories about
developing nations are transmitted trough communication centres such as
London or New York.72
Pictures are especially important for foreign new s because they bring unfamiliar
sights, w hich might be hard to imagine, directly into view ers´ homes. Stories become
more comprehensible if audiences can experience them visually.73
These concerns are the new scholar interests that shifted in the 90s, the era of
globalisation, privatisation and informatisation. Now the studies focus particularly on
the role of communication satellites, telecommunication, and Internet, its
consequences and the digital gap betw een developed and developing nations.74
Latin America: US economic colonies
Latin America’s increase broadcasting commercial media in the 80s and 90s
provided major opportunities for global media firms, especially the ones from the
United States, combined the continent-w ide adoption of neoliberalist economic
67 Thussu, 2000, p. 35.
68 Currey-Seaton, 1993, p. 5.
69 This is what Negrine called the “Internationalisation of Television”: altering the nature of the industry, and
carrying with it an enormous impact on the patterns of development within countries (Negrine, 1994, p. 208.)
70 Ibi d., p. 29. [Complement ary information in AP PENDIX 3: “ US-UK news from Mexico, regulation
differences” on page 127]
71 Graber, 2002, p. 360.
72 Ibi d.
73 Ibi d.
74 Ibi d., p. 5.
In Latin America most of the population speak Spanish and 25% around
300 native languages, English is w idely understood among the upper and middle
classes, but there is a viable middle and upper class, especially in nations like
Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina, show ing a fondness for Hollyw ood and
Anglo-American dominant culture.76
The rise of the ‘global public sphere’ along w ith CNN w and a 24-hour channel
launched in 1980 provided a new actor in the media policy evolution: Infotainment. In
1997, they launched for Latin American audiences CNN in Spanish based in Atlanta,
and then other languages that expanded the TV station in other major non-English
markets, along with the expanding the Anglo-American new s values around the
w orld.77 This reflected the need for local new s in local languages.
This explains why Latin America has become a prime battleground for digital
satellite television. Miami has emerged as the media capital of the Spanish
region; most Latin cable and satellite channels are headquartered there, as is
the coordination of Latin American advertising.78
According to UNESCO’s World Culture Report in 1998, 62% of television
programmes show n in Latin America channels originated from the United States and
since the launch of TNT Latin America available in Spanish, the pan-region netw ork
US-based television companies have expanded considerably into the market.79
The causes are mostly economic as Negrine explains:
Media often find it cheaper and advantageous to b roadcast foreign/non-national
material. Globalisation goes two ways and more and more British companies
are making expansion overseas a priority: much of the wealth of British media
companies comes from there.80
75 Herman-McChensey, 1997, pp. 66-67. [Complementary information in AP PENDIX 3: “ Letter to the Edi tors,
(Our) America is not the United States on page 118]
76 Ibi d.
77 Thussu, 2000, p. 157.
78 Ibi d.
79 Thussu, 2000, p. 188.
80 Negrine, 1994, p. 208.
The influence of objectivity from
the Western media to the world
An ongoing Diary in London, Pedro Meyer (Mexican Photographer)
Traditionally… foreign news is considered to be rather ‘difficult’. The Englishman’s
knowledge of geography has always been hazy and he dislikes having to remember
the difference between Bucharest and Budapest. He is not interested in even the
simplest political facts about countries which are not at war with him.
Ian Fleming, 1950 quoted by Jeremy Tunstall, 1996.
London is arguably the world’s most influential media capital. From ‘the island’
new s providers dominate most of the w orld wires, new spapers, magazines and
broadcast reports, to nearly half of the countries in the w orld.81
The headquarters of Reuters and AP, the tw o biggest new s agencies are in London,
and other British international institutions w ith a global reach like the Financial Times,
the Economist and the Guardian are there too.82
In terms of broadcasting stations BBC New s, Sky News, AP Television and CNN
among others have their biggest offices in London. BBC World has a global service
of 150 journalists f rom about 30 countries and it’s the single biggest international
medium in the w orld.83
What is the influence of this media orb to Mexico? From the historical point of view
and the origins of journalism schools it is related to an indirect liberal journalistic
relationship betw een the tw o countries and their media.
Why are British people obsessed w ith w ar, w eather and crime? Is that part of their
society? Far from there, for Mexican journalists it’s difficult to understand that in the
UK reporters have a significant role in culture and politics, and w rite books and, most
of them, even at the beginning of their careers, earn enough money to live a solvent
They have the oldest and most recognized quality papers in the w orld, and among
the w orst and stunning tabloids, but all w ith large circulations. Their history is of
freedom, pluralism and aggressiveness, and their open battle versus press officers
and public relation companies: the so-called ‘spin doctors’.84 As in British society as a
w hole, they combine the old w ith the leading edge and have specialized areas like
“peace” or “alternative” journalism, as Harcup said “There is a long and continuing
tradition of alternative media being produced to challenge the discourse(s) of
Also universities research the media constantly and most of
new spapers have media sections that talk about ‘other media’, something not quite
often in Mexico.
The history of British journalism represents this evolution of new s discourse.
According to Matheson, beginning from the time of Victorian journalism from the
1880s and ending in the 1930s, the media discourse suffered three main changes:86
a) The w ide range of styles became subsumed under a single style; b) the
epistemological status of the new s changed from that of a collection of raw
information to that of a form of know ledge in itself, not dependent on
other discourses, and c) the news developed an independent social status, which
somehow w as staring question social conventions of public discourse.87
81 Graber, 2000.
82 Even the Guardian, known as representing the liberal Briton, has a separate edition printed in central Europe,
and Guardian Weekly for the rest of the world.
83 News companies compete fiercely, and most events in the world are now collected by five major wire
services: AP, Reuters , AFP, ITAR-TSS and Xinhua. But Reuters and AP are the only two heavy-weights. AP is by
far the largest, i n the year 2000 it maintained 95 internat ional bureaus and 146 i n the US, which means 56 more
than Reuters, the strongest historical competitor (Graber, 2000, p. 350). [Complementary material in
APPENDIX 3: “US-UK news in Mexico: regulation differences” on page 125.]
84 Stain, 2003.
85 Harcup, T., 2003, p.356.
86 Matheson , 2000, p. 557.
This w as the “New Journalism”, w hile Victorian new s seemed only to represent
information, the modern new s story w as itself a piece of information.88 Then
journalism gained its authority and status as a meaning-broker in modern society,
and89 their new form of w riting was self-sufficient. But Matheson’s study clarif ies that
by no means w ere they independent of the pow er structures of society; how ever
new s acquired the ability to refract various practices and ideologies.90
From the Latin American perspective, the Mexican modern press, meaning El
Universal and Excelsior as the oldest new spapers in the 20th century, w ere inspired
by la prensa anglosajona like the New York Times, w hich w as deeply inspired by the
Times of London, especially in cosmetic aspects. But the origins of Mexican media
are by contrast the French press.91
The questions of objectivity
Western media have dominated the discussed international flow of information. They
created the framew ork of new s values around the w orld, adopted by many countries,
among them Mexico.
Many debates f rom Galtung and Ruge, Allan, Bagdikian and Pedelty have heated the
recent debate of new s values and factors governing the production of new s. The idea
of “objectivity” has been evolving since the beginning of the 18th century. According
to Hackett and Zhao, in the United States and Canada new s reports w ere much more
w ritten in free style, “governed by chronology, the development of the argument, of
the unfolding order and perceived new sw orthiness.”92
The change of media values in the 1850s helped journalists in the Western w orld
support stories w ith a context, to interpret facts and retain objectivity at the same
time, yet the distinction betw een new s and view s “w as not rigid.”93
The commercial press w as born offering moral lessons in their reports, but w ith
particular interests. Hackett and Zhao explain that the ideological framew ork of
objectivity emerged as a principle: a narrative purporting to take the universal rather
than a particular perspective.94
But then “objectivity” demanded more control of reporters and editors because it
expected every item to be attributed to some authority. This increased the quantity of
literal facts in the new s and strengthened the grow ing sense of discipline and ethics
87 Ibi d., p. 559.
88 Ibi d., p. 565.
89 Ibi d., p. 571.
90 Ibi d.
91 The French school was a disciplinary regime with awards and punishment, where official news flooded the
front pages and prai sing the virtues and customs of the political establ ishment. In the British school, news was
assorted and with a low incl ination to official sources and an emphasis on sports and entertainment news, t wo
activities that tended to create business. The French model was established in Mexico during the last century,
fol lowing the state purposes, and the British model arrived late to Mexico, with some crucial developments and
changes of t he media in the 1970s. The “ New Journalism” was at least 50 years late. (Riva Palacio, 2004, p.
92 Hackett-Zhao, 1997, p. 41.
93 Ibi d., p. 95. The ideological perspective was still explicit even in the context of new industries and the end of
the radical press in the 19th century in Europe.
94 Hackett-Zhao, 1997, p. 95. These concepts became incorporated as key legitimations of liberal-democratic
in journalism, explains Bagdikian.95 Also the invention of the traditional “inverted
w as an important development in w riting new s as it happened, like
machines, w ithout prejudice, colour or style. “So w as born an artificial kind of new s
w riting, far removed from every day speech”.97
Hackett and Zhao explain that the discourse of commercial press left the
revolutionary and social angle, and turned to a popular discourse less hostile to the
existing social institutions. These papers had the ability to w rite radical analysis
rather than surf ace rhetoric, but just as a commodity for a company, and dropped it
once ‘it w as not longer helping to attract a profitable readership.’98
During this century a new breed of journalist emerged that helped to entrench the
concept of new s as a set of factually accurate and non-partisan accounts of events.
These w ere among others the people’s journals that emphasized not opinion but
new s, especially sensationalist.99 It w as a legitimate controversy, built in the
organization of the new s-processing companies, rather than the importance of
events, as Curran and Seaton explain.100
In order to get made into news, events have to happen in places convenient for
the newsgathering agencies, and to be of a recognized and acceptable kind,
come from a reliable and predictab le source.101
According to Bagdikian in the 20th century tw o generations of newspaper people
have incorrectly labelled “objectivity” as a different practice, that of appealing to
serious journalism to straining out ideas and ideology from public aff airs.102
One of the most recent positions about objectivity is the so-called ‘peace journalism’
school, w hich questions objectivity as a goal or value and stimulates dialog for a
complete idea of the coverage of conflicts. Johan Galtung w rote in 1998 a strong
critique about the conventional idea of w ar reporting:
The low road, dominant in the media, sees a conflict as a battle, as a sports
arena or gladiator circus. The parties, usually reduced to two, are combatants in
a struggle to impose their goals. The reporting model is that of a military
command: who advances, who capitulates short of their goals; losses are
counted in terms of numbers killed or wounded and material damage. 103
These ideas apply to any story and especially to one of the most criticized parts of
95 Bagdikian, 1992.
96 Where reporters put the most important information first, so even when they got cut off, their paper still would
be able to report the gist of the story. The structure is: Summary lead, most pertinent, quotes/facts that back up
lead, supporting points ranked in order of most to l east important. (Lynch, 2002a).
97 Hackett-Zhao, 1997, p. 41.
98 Ibi d, p. 93.
99 Ibi d, p. 98.
100 Curran-Seaton, 1993, p. 277.
102 Bagdikian, 1992.
103Galtung, 1998. Cited by Lynch, 2002.
The same applies to verbal battles: who outsmarts the other, who comes out
closest to his original position. War journalism has sports journalism, and court
journalism, as models.104
In the tw entieth century objectivity was adjusted and subjectivity w as recognized. The
most important step was the extension of the rubric of objectivity to include
interpretive as w ell as “straight” reporting. Hence, interpretative reporting meant,
“placing new s into an appropriate context.”105
With the grow th of television and radio media and their general commercial
imperative, the regular entertainment programmes sw itched to attract a w ide disparity
of consumers w ith another technique: sex and violence. “The Emergence of
broadcasting in the 1920s did not create an alternative new s system”, explains
But as a complex subject and uncertain issue, journalists in the field do not feel
compelled to follow conventions of objectivity, or as they call it partisan reporting. For
instance, the holistic notion of objectivity and the framew ork of new s values that most
of the Western media follow s the next typical display:
1.-Government said and then the opposition said, an approach in new s reporting in
2.-When identifying tw o or more sides of an event and access to one party is
impossible, the new s texts characteristically contain an ‘unavailable to comment’
clause, and rhetorical claims that they attempted to achieve ‘balance.’106
Hackett and Zhao conclude that rules of objectivity are often suspended in reporting
on politics in foreign countries, especially if that country has a government that
operates according to the liberal-democratic ideological framew ork.
These assumptions are crucial to understand the British coverage of Mexico.107
105 Hackett-Zhao, 1997, p. 42.
106 Hackett-Zhao, 1997, p.148.
107 For a better idea of how foreign desks in London are structured and work worldwide see AP PENDIX 4:
“ Foreign news structure in the UK” on page 137.
Don’t mess with the president’s wife unless
you are the Financial Times: A case study
Financi al Times Magazine, January 31st 2004
w as buying stuff in a Mexican supermarket, w hen at the cash point the
dispenser invited him to donate spare coins for minority groups. Then he asked
w hich charity, and the dispenser answ ered: If I give you the name, you w ill not
cooperate, it is Fundacion Vamos Mexico (Let’s go Mexico), but when I say it, no one
w ants to cooperate.
How could Mexicans have that kind of aversion to donate spare coins to a charity
that happened to be launched by the first lady?
This person gave the idea to the reporter of the Financial Times to w rite a story that
w as the beginning of the w orst clash that the paper has experienced w ith a Mexican
government in the last 30 years. But also one of the most important stories picked by
the Mexican media follow ing the coverage of a British new spaper.
It is not common to read an article that evidences the ambitions of the first lady, the
aw ry finances of her charity, and the attempts at harassment towards a f oreign
publication. In resume, it was the most unpleasant article about Marta Sahagún’s
image at the beginning of 2004, considering that during that time she w as a potential
candidate for the presidency.
The article touched upon the roots of the ‘new ’ Mexican government of change, the
political system, and its grotesque contradictions personalized in the first lady. I also
w as the leading article of the w eekend magazine of one of the most influential
new spapers in the w orld, w hich has even more readers in the United States than in
the United Kingdom and of course, in Mexico.
This text w ill discuss the new s coverage can amplify the eff ect of reality by bringing
them to society, as a clear example of the influence of foreign media.109 According to
Jake Lynch BBC reporter and advocate of peace journalism this is the process of the
‘positive feedback loop’ as a model about the influence of new s coverage in a
sequence of cause and effect.110 The precise nature of this influence is alw ays the
result of conscious new s decisions about w hat to cover and how to cover reality. This
conceptual tool w ill analyse the process of journalism and the decisions by reporters
and editors in commissioning, new sgathering and editing.
The coverage of Vam os Mexico
The first time the Financial Times talked about Mrs Sahagún w as November 12 2001
a few months after the charity w as launched in August 2001. The story w as centrally
to compare Marta w ith Evita, the iconic Argentinean figure, and even then they were
already questioning the charity’s finances.
“More w orrying, say observers, is the funding drive for her foundation, w hich has
reportedly included asking w ealthy Mexican industrialists for hefty donations”, the FT
During those days, some stories appeared in the Mexican media about opposition
parties’ deputies and NGOs accusing Marta of using public resources for a private
108 Not his real name.
109 Lynch, 2002, p. 14.
110 Ibid., p. 15. In relation to science, the feedback loop mechanism is a control device in a system, which can
have negative-feedback mechanisms which tend to counterbalance positive changes and so maintain stability.
(Dictionary of Plant Sciences, 1998).
institution. Apart from that, the Mexican media w as almost transcribing their
speeches, with the particular angle prising them as an institution that promoted
‘transparency’. The stories w ere like press released about information and the
figures, but none analyzed them.
In this context, if most of journalists’ attention is claimed by issues related to the a
foundation as a model of transparency, then the cumulative effect may be to send out
the message that the charity is helping poor people, hence she w ill became more
popular and cherished.
According to the ‘feedback loop’ model, reporting of negative fact or a scandal (like
irregularities in the charity) in a helpful or gratifying w ay helps to increase the
calculations of new spapers. But media companies w ould not take the risk of being
overlooked w ith some ‘sensitive topics’ amid the grow ing clamour for attention.
It also creates an incentive for more of the same or for a similar fact or statement
(new s) to be provided later.111 This process
reflect news frames that contain deeply held
cultural subjectivities of the reporters and w ill
therefore appear as ‘natural’ expositions of
Slight changes, but not substantial
The coverage of Mexican media continued
similar until February 2002 when private
companies denied cooperating w ith funds for
her foundation, and opposition parties w ere
questioning the use of public funds for a private
association. So, more areas of society w ere
In contrast to the ‘framed coverage’ new spapers
started to give voice to affected groups,
suggesting that she might not be doing a clean
job, hence she w as dishonest. These issues
w ere just allegations and no clear evidence, but
still ‘sensitive material’ related directly to a
pow erful public figure. How ever media did not analysed in depth the finances of the
Betw een 2002 and the beginning of 2003 the term ‘transparency’ mentioned in the
media reflected a semantic confusion. In one side, it w as portrayed as an example of
transparency and Sahagún as a w oman that cares about minority groups. So the
support from the president, from some business man, and other charities w ould
confirm that she w as doing a good job, and “among poor and middle class, she
remained exceedingly popular”.113 Thus state’s ‘indirect support’ w as justified,
111 Lynch, 2002a.
112 Giltin 1980, p. 6. Cited by Pedelty p. 8.
113 Financial Times, January 31 2004, p. 16.
especially because president Fox praised her charity publicly.114 According to Lynch
the strategy of reporting is based on calculations about facts, and on an
understanding derived from experience of previous reporting115Then popularity w as a
response to a personal agenda follow ed by the media.
But in the other side, some stories w ere questioning the promotion of ‘transparency’.
Most of the articles related w ere in the frame of alternative or supplementary
information, and then popularity of Sahagún w ould appear to make less sense.
These stories w ere clearly an incentive from journalists w illing to offer something
different, even if the story ‘goes w rong’ from the perspective of the source or the
political figure implicated.116
So for the first lady the allegations about the irregularities w ere just political
vengeances from people against the ‘new government of change’. In fact, most of the
stories questioning the finances w ere not in front pages of new spapers, but suddenly
it w as in the front page of the FT Weekend magazine.
The FT changing the feedback loop
The 31 of January 2004 the weekend magazine of the pink new spaper published the
story in the cover that arrived as a bombshell to the Mexican government and the first
lady’s credibility. The text called “Eyes on the prize. Mexico first lady... or next
president?” questioned three main topics related to the lack of transparency: financial
irregularities, presidential ambitions and the illegal use of public funds, harassment
and intimidation to the correspondents.117
New s is about change, people read papers to find out w hat has happened since
yesterday. “Inevitably, particular changes suit some people better than others. All
change is conflictual - it follow s that all new s is, to a greater or lesser extent, about
conflict.”118 This story did not suit Sahagún’s plans.
In f act a media analyst revealed that during the 10 months that the reporter Sara
Silver w rote the story, it coincided that she w as pregnant, and the bureaucracy and
harassment from the charity affected directly on the correspondent’s health, and in
the head of the bureau in Mexico John Authers, w ho happens to be her husband. For
instance, every time the FT contacted the ‘private’ charity, the response w as from
Los Pinos staff , the president’s house. The Foreign Press Association even had to
arrange a meeting w ith ‘important figures’ from Vicente Fox government and the FT
correspondents to discuss about the embarrassing issue.
114 This conception is explained by t he media analyst Parenty: the worst forms of tyranny –or certainly the most
successful ones- are not those we rail against but those that so insinuate themselves into the i maginary of our
consciousness and the fabric of our lives as not to be perceived as tyranny (Parenty, 1986, p 7. Cited by P edel ty
115 Lynch, 2002, p. 37.
117 See APPENDIX 8: “ Extracts from the Financial Times article” on page 149.
118 Lynch, 2002, p 19.
They confronted Mrs Fox and Mexico’s Government, using accurate figures and its
political repercussions.119 It w as a special report w ith solid information w ith British’s
directness and hard-line style questioning the figures of the charity:
In fact, only 4.6m pesos (£226,000) of the concert's proceeds of 72m pesos,
were donated that year to "those who need the most", according to the 2001
audited statements… the foundation would not make its financial officers
available to answer questions about its audited financial statements.
The next graphic show s how linear process of coverage as the circular model of
feedback loop, 120
until the FT published the story, and then the follow up by the
Mexican papers. The agenda w as moved and the whole process from “doubts and
allegations about transparency”, changed to another circle of “confirmed irregularities
and use of public f ounds”. The feedback loop the media
coverage of Vamos M exico
The same Saturday the story w as published on the f ront page local Mexico City
new spaper El Independiente, (a paper w ith a critical coverage especially of Marta
Sahagún).121 The headline w as: Vamos Mexico has obscure f inances according to
the Financial Times.
Monday 2nd February: In the f ront page El Independiente made a follow up, as w ell
as La Jornada new spaper. The later w ith the headline: Financial Times puts Marta
Sahagún in trouble. No other new spaper w rote about it and but TV channels like
Azteca and Imagen TV did not mentioned anything either. Most of radio stations and
CNI 40 channel did cover the story and surprisingly Televisa gave national dimension
to the story and did cover it on February first.
Tuesday 3rd February: The first lady responded to the FT (looking annoyed and
angry) in a brief press conference disqualifying the article as a "defamation" and
asked the foundation to issue a prompt reply to the "lack of precision". She also was
119 [See APPENDIX 8: “ Extracts from January’s Financial Ti mes article” on page 149].
120 Lynch, 2002, p. 18.
121 In October 2001 the Director of Milenio Diario was Raymundo Riva Palacio, and because of his critical
coverage about the first lady he was sacked. Riva Palacio was director of El Independiente. (Etcetera, 2004)
interview in Televisa on prime time and most of new spapers got the story. The front
page of La Jornada w as very similar: Martha goes against the Financial (Times).122
But surprisingly other newspapers covered the stories f rom the perspective of the
complaints of the first lady,
w ithout a context and
mentioning the Financial Times
just in passing. (Excélsior, El
Economista, El Financiero and
Reforma).123 Some of them (El
Universal, Milenio y Crónica)
even highlighted other angles,
like Sahagún’s interest to be the
“Major or Mexico City”.124
Then on February four the
charity had to publish details of
the financial accounts due to domestic political and media pressure.
So, why did she react versus the Financial Times if the story had already been in the
media? Because the article broke the barriers of English, had already invaded public
opinion, and many political columnists talked about the topic in depth.125
But El Independiente w as the only paper that during one w eek published in the front
page related articles. The 10th of February Reforma interview ed Hugh Carnegie,
international deputy managing editor of the Financial Times, who said that they w ill
continue publishing sorties related to the political activities of the first lady if they
have an international interest.126
The coverage of the FT in the next months w ent further w hile every day political
figures and media complained openly about the role of the first lady. In February the
published around eight stories related, and in the next months their stories w ere
focused on “how Marta Fox has affected her husband's presidency” and hence the
Opinion and discussions
Mexican new spapers might not sell enough like other countries, but there are factors
of quantity and habit w hich give newspaper discourse a major ideological
importance, according to expert in British media discourse Roger Fow ler.
122 This was the response to the Financial Times: Criticism is always welcome, but I will never be in agreement
with lies, calumnies, defamation or the tendentious management or twisting of information. For that reason, I
once again reiterate my commit ment to absolute freedom of expression based on ethics and responsibi lity.
(Financi al Ti mes, February 3 2004, p. 3).
123 Since the day the foundation was launched in 2001 until March 2004,
El Universal published around 66
stories about the t ransparency of the finances. In February 3rd when the charit y updated in its website
information about their finances, El Universal did not publish that the owner Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz was
among the founders of Vamos Mexico.(Etcetera, March 2004).
124 Etcetera, March, 2004.
125 They were among the most influential voices of Mexico in all national newspapers like Carlos Ramirez,
Miguel Angel Granados Chapa, Ciro Gómez Leyva, Raymundo Riva Palacio, Raúl Trejo Delarbre, Miguel
Badillo and Sergio Sarmiento.
126 Reforma, February 10 2004.
For the majority of people, reading the daily newspapers makes up their most
substantial and significant consumption of printed discourse and it is second only to
television as a w indow to the w orld.127
The influence of new spapers in Mexico is reflected in its hold of 13% of the
population w hile radio has 36%. Still television has the biggest audience w ith 85% of
the 21.9 million of houses w ith a TV.128
That is w hy Sahagún had to answ er the FT as soon as possible, because the story
w as already in the Mexican media, damaging the image of the ‘presidential couple’.
The role of part of commercial TV as a permanent support and defender of Marta
Sahagún reflects how pow erful and biased can these media be in Mexico.
Elena Gallegos, the Editor in Chief of La Jornada said that they gave importance to
the story because of the chauvinism of political officials, “w e know how important the
foreign media are for them”.
It w as a sensible story fairly
covered by tw o critical papers and
the quick response and the harsh
rejection of the reporter’s
accusations w ere a clear sign that
the first lady w as politically
w ounded. So a part of the press
echoed and reinf orced the story,
and exposed other media that
remained in silence. These tw o
papers conf irmed how important a
foreign medium can be in
“The Mexican media quotes
foreign media because they
themselves are not taken as
seriously. They don’t have the
influence and they w ould like to
have it, so they quote the foreign
press” said the Economist’s
correspondent in Mexico Richard
127 Fowler, 1991.
128 Riva P alaci o, 2004, p. 51.
129 A further analysis can be done about the follow up of international agencies and North American papers about
the same topic. Reuters coverage was excepti onal, with large texts and transcribing to Spanish almost all the
stories published by the Financial Times, but for instance German DP