Where’s the Outcry Over the Closure of Mexico’s Populist Radio Station?
Early Sunday afternoon, a giant crowd dressed largely in yellow gathered in the largest plaza of the capital city of a Latin American country to defend freedom of expression and denounce the closing of a media outlet that has operated for decades. Another opposition march in Venezuela to protest the shut down of RCTV? No, this time the angry protestors weren’t in the heart of Caracas but in the famous Zocalo of Mexico City. Thousands of Mexicans gathered to protest the closing of Radio Monitor, home to the popular newscasts of Jose Gutierrez Vivo.
But this story isn’t likely to get much traction in the mainstream US media. Unlike RCTV in Venezuela, Radio Monitor wasn’t the property of multi-millionaires that regularly denounced a controversial anti-American president. It was a populist voice critical of the political and professional elite and defender of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist who was narrowly defeated by Felipe Calderon in a presidential election many still believe was fraudulent.
Radio Monitor, a station that broadcast for thirty-three years and made Jose Gutierrez Vivo a household name, stopped transmitting on June 29th. The facts surrounding its closure are still somewhat foggy. Vivo claims that he was forced to stop broadcasting due to an economic conspiracy led by a collusion of former President Vicente Fox and the media elite. Part of the accusation is that its parent company, Radio Centro has deliberately withheld over 20 million dollars it owes the station as a way of starving it into oblivion. Vivo believes that Fox, a friend of the Aguirre-Gomez family which owns the company, interfered in the legal process to undermine Radio Monitor’s financial well being. Current president Felipe Calderon has also been accused of meddling, though he denies any wrongdoing.
Perhaps Radio Monitor is simply the victim of impartial market forces, but for the supporters gathered in the Zocalo, this was a naked act of censorship and aggression. "Radio Monitor, No One Is Going to Silence You!" read one banner. Another sign proclaimed, "Enough is Enough You Spurious President! Stop Repressing the Information Media that Actually Tells the Truth." One man addressed the crowd by saying, "Once again our dignity is in danger. The owners and masters of society want to return to the days when they repressed the truth." Another man that I interviewed, Ruben Gutierrez Gutierrez, was quite despondent. When I asked him if there was any hope that Radio Monitor would return he replied, "Who knows, because the people that did this have all the power. First they stole an election and now they are closing a radio station without reason and without warning." Former Mexico City Mayor Obrador has also strongly criticized the situation claiming, "This is simply an act of aggression against freedom of expression, which they have been undermining since the days of Foxthis is characteristic of the right, they don’t want libertythey just want discourse with one voice."
Are all these people simply overreacting because of an unwillingness to countenance one more blow to their populist dreams? Perhaps. But the closure of Radio Monitor still provides a good opportunity for reflection about what we consider to be threats to freedom of expression.
If it is true that in Venezuela, the government shut down a popular TV station simply because it could not tolerate its harsh editorial position, then such an act deserves all the attention and criticism it has received. But Radio Monitor has leveled extremely similar charges and considering that this is happening in neighboring Mexico, one might expect it to receive at least as much attention from the so-called defenders of freedom of expression as a TV station in Caracas. Whatever be the virtue of RCTV’s cause, it has some undeniable advantages. It is a station that produces wildly popular soap operas and game shows, and is owned by an ultra-rich family with connections in the United States. Radio Monitor was dedicated to the much less popular pursuit of providing hard news and being a watchdog over the political and corporate elite.
In a media landscape where two corporations Televisa and TV Azteca enjoy near total control in Mexico, and where US media is dominated by giant corporations and billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, who continues to expand his holdings, we must ask ourselves what is the more serious threat to freedom of the press.  Our civil liberties are judged not by how they benefit the most powerful, but the most vulnerable. There may be several legitimate reasons why RCTV received so much more attention than Radio Monitor. But one flyer being passed out at the recent march expressed a different view:
Hugo Chavez has been criticized for closing a TV station by not renewing its concession. But isn’t it worse to attack a media outlet that is democratic and inclusive? Apparently Radio Monitor has to die for telling the truth.
SCOTT LIEBERTZ is a high school teacher living and working in Venezuela.
1. Alonso, Emilio Olivares. "Llaman a realizar boicot contra Radio Centro"
La Jornada. 9 July 2007. p. 12
2. "Acuden trabajadores de Radio Monitor a los Pinos." www.diariodemexico.com
3. July 2007. accessed 10 July 2007.
Vargas, Rosa Elvira and Gomez, Carolina. "Muere Monitor a causa de boicot desde el gobierno: Gutierrez Vivo." www.lajornada.com.mx 30 June 2007. accessed 10 July 2007-07-10
3. "Mexican President denies role in closure of radio show that highlighted rival" Associated Press. www.signonsandiego.com. 30 June 2007. accessed 10
4. Cardenas, Javier Valdez. "El cierre de Radio Monitor, golpe a la libertad de expresión: Lopez Obrador." www.lajornada.com.mx 30 June 2007 accessed 10 July 2007
5. "Mexico TV Reform signed into law" BBC News. 11 April 2006. accessed 10 July 2007
Note: All translations are the author’s.