López Obrador creates polarization with attacks on the press and little transparency, say Mexican journalists

With little more than four months in power, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has implemented a strategy of harassment and disqualification against media that is causing a polarization of the press in that country, according to journalists Salvador Camarena and Daniel Moreno.

Salvador Camarena and Daniel Moreno (2019)
Salvador Camarena, general director of journalistic investigation at the organization Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y Impunidad (MCCI), and Daniel Moreno, editorial director of the news site Animal Político, (Teresa Mioli/Knight Center)

Camarena, general director of journalistic investigation at the organization Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y Impunidad (MCCI), and Moreno, editorial director of the news site Animal Político, expanded on this idea during the 12th Ibero-American Colloquium of Digital Journalism, on April 14 at the University of Texas at Austin.

Camarena and Moreno led the talk “The Challenges and Realities of Mexican Journalism,” in which the journalists explained the current panorama of the critical press in Mexico in the face of López Obrador’s arrival to power on Dec. 1, 2018. The talk was moderated by Gabriela Polit, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas at Austin.

The president, who enjoys approval of more than 70 percent according to polls, has made the attack on the media one of his preferred narratives, Camarena said. One example is the term “prensa fifí,” which López Obrador coined to refer to media that in his opinion are conservative and therefore corrupt, the journalist explained.

“These insults lead us to a greater polarization where he has a lot of money, a lot of communication channels, he has a majority in the two congresses – the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Senators – and he also has a whole government mobilized in this, in denigrating journalists,” Camarena said.

López Obrador offers press conferences from Monday to Friday at 7:00 in the morning for about an hour and a half, which are broadcast on open television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and are posted on Spotify. However, his communication strategy is far from offering transparency and accountability, according to Moreno.

“If someone asks a critical question, journalists who are at the press conference whistle at the journalist because ‘how dare they ask such things,'” Moreno said.

“Giving a press conference where journalists whistle at you if you ask something ‘bad’ is not accountability,” he added.

When journalists refute López Obrador’s statements with data, the president disqualifies them and insists that his data is what counts, Moreno said. As in the press conference on Friday, April 12, when Univision journalist Jorge Ramos questioned him about the homicide rate in Mexico. The communicator received thousands of attacks on social networks with the hashtag #JorgeRamosProvocador.

On the following Monday, the president referred to the event saying that if journalists “pass the line, they know what will happen.”

Moreno showed examples of YouTubers that openly discredit journalists who question the president in videos that exceed one million views, compared to the media that, he said, have a credibility level of less than 50 percent.

“If there is one thing we can accuse the media of it’s that the [traditional] Mexican press historically has forgotten the service to readers. It has basically devoted itself to living from power and has had the ability to adapt. What do we see today? A new prensa oficialista,” he said.

Although covering the President of Mexico in the capital of the country implies difficulties, these do not compare with the lives of journalists in the interior of the Republic, who also have to circumvent the danger of physical violence to cover the local authorities.

“Our colleagues from the states live in a hell,” Camarena said. “It is harder to criticize the mayor than the President of the Republic. I would not like to live in an average city in Mexico and to criticize the mayor, because with this your life is at risk, literally. ”

Given this panorama, the option for citizens is the critical press that offers them information without tendencies, outside the polarization that prevails in traditional media.

“Yes, there are citizens who do not want to be trapped in this dichotomy, in this Manichaeism,” Camarena said. “They want punctual information without any kind of tendency, neither in favor nor against, that which is correct to make correct decisions.”