Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Governments Misuse Advertising To Censor Media



The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has published a study on the misuse of government advertising to censor freedom of expression and information. Titled, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico, the research “demonstrates how Mexico’s federal and state governments deploy financial power to pressure media outlets and penalise critical reporting.”

The report is the third by CIMA in a series of studies on 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.” The earlier reports were Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia's Media and Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media.



“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 non-transparent allocation or withholding of state/government media subsidies, advertising, and similar financial instruments,” says the publication’s executive summary.

Key findings are:
1. Allocation of massive governmental advertising in Mexico on partisan and political bases powerfully shapes media content. Federal and local officials take advantage of weak regulation to influence editorial content. Despite laws and recommendations that demand or encourage regulation, scant progress has been made to establish clear allocation criteria.

2. Many media outlets slant their coverage to obtain more advantageous advertising contracts. Some media owners are active partners in a corrupt symbiosis that rewards propaganda rather than ac curate news reporting.

3. Allocation of broadcast spectrum is a distinct soft censorship mechanism, used particularly to restrict community broadcasting.

4. A profound lack of transparency hinders understanding and reform of government advertising. Efforts to make federal advertising spending public have failed. Opacity also prevails at the state level; more than half of the states withhold details of their advertising allocations. And the majority of Mexican media outlets refuse to release fundamental data on audience or circulation.

5. Regulation of government advertising exists only regarding electoral campaigns, despite constitutional obligations and presidential promises. Article 134 (2007) of Mexico’s constitution barring propaganda in government advertising is often unenforced. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s July 2012 pledge to reform government advertising remains unfulfilled.

6. Arbitrary use of government advertising further concentrates media ownership and creates a false appearance of pluralism. It sustains so-called “pasquines”—multiple media outlets, especially among print media and on the Internet, that survive solely on government funds and have minimal actual audience.

7. The billions of pesos in government advertising that promote individual politicians or political party agendas with no proven positive impact on public debate are effectively subsidies for favoured media outlets. About 12 billion pesos (905 million USD) is spent by the federal and state governments on advertising each year absent any clear indication that the advertising reaches target groups or is effective.

8. Directly corrupt practices persist in most of Mexico, including offering typically poorly-paid journalists bribes—known colloquially as “chayote”—to influence their reporting, as well as other payments allegedly made to editors, owners, and publicists.

Click here to read the full report in English.

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