Thursday, 23 August 2012

Felipe Calderón's Revenge - The Vendetta against MVS

I recently realized how little I know about an important communication battleground that has the potential to impede political and social progress in Mexico and to silence the voice of protest. In fact, the battle in Mexico is another example of what has been called "the new cold war" by sociologist Philip N. Howard. In a blog that quickly became widely cited, Howard says:

"There is a new Cold War starting. It does not involve opposing military forces, but it does involve competing ideas about how political life should be organized. The battles are between broadcast media outlets and social-media upstarts, which have very different approaches to news production, ownership and censorship." (Read full article at:
Howard is specifically referring to the battle in Russia and other totalitarian states  to control and limit the power of alternative expressions and information outlets (think Pussy Riot), but his general argument about limiting access to news and silencing voices of dissent also applies to Mexico. The Mexican government has not made any obvious attempts to block individual access to social media, it has nevertheless undertaken to silence those who do not speak well of Mexico. The Calderón government introduced a campaign to encourage everyone in Mexico to say only positive things about Mexico, and in the final months of the PAN sexenio the Calderón government and the putative president elect Enrique Peña Nieto both contracted with international public relations firms to promote their personal positive image.

But the most important battleground of this "Mexican Cold War" involves a plaza dispute for Broad Band Spectrum licensing. Here, a fight to control the 2.5 GHz broad-band media rights has become the proxy battlefield where  powerful economic and political forces are engaged in a battle to control the hearts and minds and the pursestrings of Mexicans.

The political battle is about a licence for the 2.5 Ghz broadband spectrum (see a Forbes report at and whoever ends up with the rights to use 2.5 GHz will have the potential to control or to protect freedom of speech, journalistic integrity and a powerful propaganda machinery. The outcome will be one of two radically different alternatives— either a powerful ideological machinery or alternative outlets for public enlightenment and marginalized voices


The case is about the Calderon government decision to take away a longstanding permission from one company that has provided 2.5 Ghz services in Mexico and to hand over this licence to one of the two existing duopoly media empires (Televisa). The license ("permission to use") was originally granted to the family of Joaquin Vargas Guajardo a number of years ago. At the time, this broadband range was not considered commercially viable and no-one appreciated its potential importance,  nor did anyone anticipate how it has become one of the central battlegrounds of telecommunications in the internet and wireless age. 

Joaquin Vargas and his family used the 2.5 Ghz broadband frequency licence to introduce and foster a wide range of telecommunication point-to-point services in their telecommunications company named MVS. Vargas describes the goals and purpose of  MVS this way (

MVS COMUNICACIONES, Una empresa innovadora.

En 1967, el instinto de negocio y la visión innovadora de Joaquín Vargas Gómez guiaron la apertura de Stereorey, la primera estación de radio FM estéreo en México. En ese momento él no lo sabía, pero al crear esta estación, también puso los cimientos de lo que sería MVS, una de las empresas de comunicaciones más importantes de México y América Latina.

Ese espíritu innovador ha sido nuestro motor desde hace mas de cuatro décadas. Hemos sido pioneros en incorporar incontables avances tecnológicos en el mundo de las telecomunicaciones, muchos de ellos aún vigentes, y lo hemos hecho con la firme creencia de que en México hay talento y grandes posibilidades de crecimiento. Hemos sido innovadores también en la creación de contenidos, en el estilo y forma de comunicar e, incluso, en la manera de administrar cada negocio.

Google translation into English
MVS Communications, an innovative company.

In 1967, the business instinct and innovative vision guided Joaquín Vargas Gómez Stereorey opening, the first stereo FM radio station in Mexico. At that time he did not know, but to create this season, also laid the foundations of what would MVS, one of the largest communications companies in Mexico and Latin America.

That spirit of innovation has been our driving force for more than four decades. We have pioneered countless incorporate technological advances in the telecommunications world, many of them still in force, and have done so with the firm belief that Mexico has talent and great potential for growth. We have also been innovative in creating content, style and way of communicating and even on how to manage each business.

MVS grew into an innovative and diverse company that provided radio and streaming services via more than 130 broad band stations (radio and television), and approximately 2/3 of those stations were created and financed by MVS itself. Many of those outlets provided public information that was not available through official channels, and in many cases was the only place where alternative views to the official hegemony could be heard. Arguably, the success of MVS in Mexico in providing these services and yet remaining financially viable is a major reason that other international telephone and telecommunication providers are reviewing how to develop this same broad-band frequency elsewhere! Several regulatory agencies  (eg Australia, NZ) are re-evaluating how to licence and regulate this broadband range that opens up a wide spectrum of communication outlets.

The Importance of 2.5 GHz services in Mexico

Most importantly, many of the radio and streaming programs in Mexico engaged in outstanding investigative journalism and served as a true "fifth estate" in pointing to the abuses and corruption of government power, military violations of human rights in conducting the drug war, the non-transparency and inequality inherent in the Mexican justice system, and the outright abuses of power by the oligarchies that dominate Mexico. One of the most outstanding and well-known MVS voices is the journalist and talk-show host Carmen Aristegui. 

Several stations broadcasting from MVS frequencies and through broadband streaming stations became major thorns in the side of politicians of all stripes—including Vicente Fox, Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador and Felipe Calderón. Carmen Aristegui became one of the most famous journalists in Mexico because she regularly provided information and hosted experts who addressed the flawed drug war, the inexplicable ways in which Felipe Calderon's family and friends escaped prosecution in the aftermath of the ABC Day Care Tragedy that killed 44 children, and even the personal shortcomings and inadequacies of politicians like Felipe Calderon Hinojosa. Although Aristegui brought to light many facts and issues that would anger Felipe Calderón,  her interviews focusing on his well-known alcoholism were especially vexing and irritating and drove him into a black rage. There is no doubt that she was public enemy number one in Calderon's mind, and as a result MVS and Joaquin Vargas came under direct attack.

Suspension from broadcasting and reinstatement

In February of 2011, Carmen Aristegui's contract was not renewed under mysterious circumstances, but she was later reinstated with even less information. Carmen Aristegui provides more details about these events in a reforma op-ed column from August 24, 2012 and more details are being revealed day by day as documents and electronic communications are released and made public. (See Reporte Indigo- los BBLeaks de MVS )When these events happened, there was a public outrage and extensive news coverage in many of the traditional media outlets (La Jornada, Reforma, Proceso). Documents recently made available make it clear that this February firing resulted from herrefusal to apologize for a program in which she editorialized about Felipe Calderon's alcoholism and his inability to perform his duties.

But the removal of the licence from Joaquin Vargas was unlikely limited to the Aristegui incident. Over time, MVS and many of its other streaming services emerged as the prime outlet for leftist Progresista movement in the election campaign, and MVS provided several outlets for  intellectuals, government critics, international observers and informed citizens to make critiques and present reasonable alternative views to the government policies.

Felipe Finally Gets his Revenge

But Felipe Calderón eventually would have his pound of flesh! In July of this year,  the government withdrew this longstanding licence (Permission?) that had been granted to the Vargas family to offer 2.5 GHz services. Even more remarkably, it handed  the licence to Televisa in a gift wrapped pacakge— making the Televisa media empire even more powerful and influential in . There is no need here to point out how Televisa was directly involved in the election campaign on behalf of PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto nor that its blatant agenda of support for the PRI remains one main focal points the #YoSoy132 campaign against corruption, oligarchies and abuse of power. Nor is there time to review out all of the intricate ways that Televisa has involved in promoting Enrique Peña Nieto directly through its  public relations for pay service teams and on air favourable coverage.

Newspapers in Mexico have provided extensive coverage to this 2.5 GHz story, but to this point there are no English language reports about this blatant attempt to silence freedom of speech and alternative viewpoints in Mexico. If Felipe Calderon remains unchallenged, the duopolistic media powers Televisa and TV Azteca will emerge with even more influence, and the voices of reasonable journalists and intellectuals in Mexico will have limited outlet. To bend and paraphrase Televisa's founder Emilio Izcarraga famous dictum— everyone will be fucked, not just the poor.

Indications are that Joaquin Vargas is a decent and honourable man and evidence supports the idea that he has always managed MVS fairly and in a transparent way. He has never made waves nor tried to influence elections nor government policy, and has remained in the background. But he has been fighting back and has been confronting the Calderón government directly with the facts. Spokespeople (voceros) for Felipe Calderon are working hard to make the argument that this is just about a businessman who does not want to pay a fee to use a valuable bandwidth — but it is clearly much more ominous and has been described by Proceso as Calderon's revenge. (edition 1858 and an in-depth report by Jenaro Villamil

The Mexican government also claims that it was Joaquin Vargas himself who offered to fire Carmen Aristegui, but in a press conference ( Vargas calmly fired back and denied this allegation. He presented documents that clearly show that the pressure came directly from Calderón and that he was offered the renewal of his family license for 2.5 Ghz services if she were fired and removed from the air. (The documents are available at

This retraction of this 2.5 GHz licence is a complicated and troubling incident with important implications for transparency, the freedom of the press, and for democratic development in Mexico. And sadly, it is NOT being covered in the English language press.

Fisgón - la Jornada August 25, 2012
Lorenzo Meyer (Reforma, August 23) published a column that presents basic facts and events, and also suggests why it is important that those who believe in intellectual, academic and political freedom should monitor this development closely. (see 'Quién consigue qué, cómo y cuándoon Reforma's site, or look for a reprint of it in other Mexican newspapers). But Raymundo Riva Palacio describes the unique and unusual stance of Joaquin Vargas Guajardo, especially in the eje central column entitled Citizen Joaquin where he may in fact have offered to deliver Carmen Aristegui's head on a platter. Vargas may not be the perfect hero, but he has taken a courageous stance in opposing the oligarchy and he has done this in a country that is familiar with the brutality of power. Even if Vargas did offer to curb Aristegui, we might be able to forgive him given a business culture that thrives on threat and bullying.

This incident is a troubling threat to democracy, and it is truly hard to know whether everyone involved is a villain or a hero.  But the battle is one that deserves to be covered in more detail in the international press. If there are no external monitors and observers, Mexico will be in even more danger of becoming another 20th century example of totalitarian state described in George Orwell's "1984".

Global implications

This battle in Mexico seems to have focused on one specific area where very few people are paying attention to the larger consequences. But this is an important issue that has implications that extend far beyond the Mexican borders. The student protests and #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico undertand why it is important to curb and place limits on media power, and they have correctly identified the threat to democracy represented by the duopolistic powers of Televisa and TVAzteca. Outside of Mexico, few of us our paying attention to this battle and even fewer of us understand the implications.

The following is taken from Carmen Aristegui's August 24th op-ed article in Reforma about these events and the pressure placed on Joaquin Vargas
"Dieciocho meses después, la historia ha dado un vuelco. Si bien quedó claro que la Presidencia de México ha mentido y que sí estuvo involucrada, hasta la médula, en aquel vergonzoso capítulo, también es cierto que, en el camino, se han hecho revelaciones insólitas, cuyos detalles han sacudido a quienes entonces -y ahora- formamos parte del equipo de Noticias MVS.

Duro ha sido saber, hoy de primera mano con las propias conversaciones de Joaquín Vargas, el tipo de negociaciones y arreglos que se pueden dar en las estructuras de poder político y empresarial, en donde los periodistas terminamos por ser monedas de cambio. Elementos que dan o quitan poder a quienes detentan cargos políticos y concesiones.

Joaquín Vargas tomó un riesgo mayor. Para poder exhibir la perversidad del modelo tuvo que exhibirse a sí mismo y mostrar el punto hasta el que fue capaz de ser obsecuente y someterse ante un poder que -de diversas maneras- lo colocaba en esa disyuntiva perversa: la cabeza de la periodista o la posibilidad de mantener para MVS la 2.5.

Esta semana, Joaquín tomó una decisión histórica que dejó al desnudo a todos los participantes. La más grave exhibición corre a cargo de la Presidencia, porque es ahí donde se ejerce el poder a nombre de los mexicanos.

En una mezcla de valentía y autoinmolación, Joaquín puso al desnudo el entramado de poder que ha existido desde hace décadas, que ha permitido dar, quitar, refrendar o no, según las conveniencias y valoraciones políticas. "Si te callas, te doy; si no obedeces, te quito", resumió el propio Vargas.

Miles de jóvenes en las calles hoy exigen "democratización en los medios". Se paran frente a Televisa, reclaman a los medios y exigen a los poderes públicos. Colocan como imperativo un cambio de paradigma. ¿Quién puede negarles que les asiste la razón?"

English translation (Google translation)
"Eighteen months later, the story has turned. While it was clear that the President of Mexico has lied and yes was involved, through and through, in that shameful chapter, it is also true that in the way, they have made ​​unusual revelations, details of which have been shaken to its then-and now, we are part of the news team MVS.  
Duro has been know, first hand today with the talks themselves Joaquin Vargas, the type of negotiations and arrangements that can occur in the structures of political power and business, where journalists end up being bargaining chips. items that give or take away power to those who hold political office and concessions.  
Joaquin Vargas took a risk. perversity To display the model had to exhibit himself and show the extent to which he was able to be obedient and subject to a power-in different ways-what perverse placed in this dilemma: the head of the journalist or the possibility of maintaining for MVS 2.5. This week, Joaquin took a historic decision that laid bare all participants. exhibition, the most serious is the responsibility of the Presidency, because that's where the power is exercised in the name of Mexicans.  
In a mixture of courage and self-sacrifice, Joaquin laid bare the web of power that has existed for decades , enabling support, remove, endorse or not, according to the convenience and political assessments. "If you shut up, I give you if you do not obey, I remove" summed Vargas himself.  
Thousands of young people on the streets today demanding "democratization in the media. "stand in front of Televisa, the media demanding and require public authorities. imperative placed as a paradigm shift. Who can deny them the right is? "

No comments: