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Feature 032315 Baker

Monday, March 23, 2015

Carmen Aristegui, a Bold Mexican Journalist, is Fired (Again)

By George Baker

This report returns to the subject of investigative journalism in Mexico. The timing is prompted by the public agitation over the termination of employment by MVS Radio on March 15 of Carmen Aristegui, a veteran journalist whose TV and radio programs have had huge audiences. She has 3.57 million followers on Twitter and has issued more than 86,000 Tweets since March 2012.

Days earlier, the employment of two journalists on her investigative team had been terminated; according to MVS, they had “employed the name of MVS without authority … and without having had a prior consultation with the administration.” When Aristegui demanded, as a condition for her remaining as a journalist with the station, the reinstatement of the two journalists, MVS categorically refused.

She subsequently gave a press briefing to journalists associated with Mexicoleaks.mx, a web portal that invites the anonymous submission of documents (understood as ones indicative of the corruption of officials). She announced that she and her lawyers would contest the dismissal. In support of freedom of expression, a reported 170,000 people have signed a petition to have Ms. Aristegui reinstated.

Background

Five years ago we reported on the state of investigative journalism in Mexico. In our assessment, reporters and media organizations trafficked in light news, with an occasional exposé of alleged misconduct by a person or organization in the public or private sector. In economic policy, the premises of public policy would be passively accepted (such as, for example, Pemex and CFE as state monopolies).

Four years ago, in February of 2011, Ms. Aristegui was terminated by MVS, allegedly for making a statement on her program that the rumored alcoholism of the sitting president should be clarified. Then, as now, there was great public response in defense of her rights as a journalist (MEI Note 039.1). Eventually she was rehired. The question of the alleged alcoholism was never resolved.

Our recent report on freedom of expression in Mexico (MEI 774) asked about the likelihood that a whistle-blower would emerge inside organizations in the public or private sectors. We concluded that the risk would be too great to report suspected illicit activities within an organization, both to the employee and his or her family.

Observations

Mexican news tends to pull the reader into the weeds of ephemeral stories with the predictable result that the big picture gets lost. The media noise about whether the First Lady bought a mansion with personal money or political favors has no economic significance; but it is the pan y circo of Mexican journalism.

The topics of investigative journalism that are in plain view, but which are ignored, include the not-to-be-touched, iconic status of Lázaro Cárdenas in the Mexican Petroleum Narrative. Why has not one Mexican economic historian attempted a revisionist treatment of the president who, by expropriating the oil industry in 1938, set in motion economic policies and a populist cult that cut Mexico out of global trends in the oil industry for 60 years? No whistle-blower is needed for such a study.

Why was the 2014 Energy Reform enacted without an update of the Statist energy narrative? Why weren't Pemex and CFE restructured as stock-issuing companies? Why did the government opt for the most complicated, difficult-to-administer contract model for Round 1? These questions, among many others, are pertinent for journalists in Mexico to pursue.

One reason—but not the principal one—why journalists choose not to address such questions is that the ability to separate answers from evasions in a given interview would go beyond the knowledge base of most reporters. Media companies do not invest in upgrading the technical knowledge of their reporters regarding the oil and power industries.1 By default, reporters get pulled into the weeds of production numbers and forecasts, jocular remarks of political figures, and flashes in the news pan such as the current media flare-up involving Carmen Aristegui.

Conclusion

In this light, there is a deep flaw in the goal of mexicoleaks.mx and its media collaborators. Little benefit will accrue to public policy or the economy by denouncing the behavior of individuals, be they public servants or otherwise. Greater benefits will come from educating reporters about policy choices.

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1 Only recently have Mexican journalists been given travel budgets to attend the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston. Noé Cruz and Luis Carriles attended OTC 2014.

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"The Aristegui Affaire: One of Mexico’s prominent journalists is fired (again)," by George Baker, Market Comment 068, Mexico Energy Intelligence, Mar. 18, 2015.  George Baker is the director of Energia.com, and he can be reached via e-mail at g.baker@energia.comReprinted with permission.

Mexico Energy Intelligence® (MEI) is a commercial and policy advisory service offered by Baker & Associates, Energy Consultants, a management consultancy based in Houston, Texas.  MEI reports cover topics typically not discussed in Mexico.  They facilitate two‐way communication between Mexican public and private institutions and the global environment.  The market comments and notes examine policy, institutional and cultural issues as they affect the operating environment, regulation, and government and private investment in Mexico’s energy sector.  Reports are distributed principally on a subscription basis.

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