By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
February 26, 2007
I believe the strategy now in operation is for civil society organizations, other than the APPO itself, is to sponsor as much public debate as possible to confront the bad government. Public assemblies on property such as the university buildings are almost impossible to prevent (although we know the governor prevented a meeting at Santo Domingo), and even more so when national and international figures attend.
For example, this past weekend five organizations sponsored an open national forum on the subject of the media, and surprise, surprise: the Oaxaca media suffers from repression. That repression includes not only destroying community radio stations but also destroying university radio and Channel Nine (held by las cacerolas), and broadcasters like la Doctora Bertha Mendez whom I believe is still in hiding. It also includes killing off news reporters, and damaging the newspapers themselves (and even the corner stands that sold the newspapers) as in the case of Noticias. A videographer, Brad Will, was murdered, and even internet communicators are threatened. Of equal importance is the control of the mainstream media. Television is just about the only source of news for those who have electricity but no telephone nor local newspaper: that means the two corporate controlled stations of TV Azteca and Televisa.
Media personages such as Ericel Gómez Nucamendi, the president of Noticias Group which runs the daily newspaper Noticias, radio broadcaster Abraham Zabludovski (Radio 13), and Senator Humberto Lopez Lena addressed the National Forum on Communications and Society which held its first sessions February 23 to 25 in Oaxaca. The open discussion took place in the Bellas Artes building of Universidad Autonomía de Benito Juarez, whose rector, Francisco Martínez Neri was among the keynote panel presenters. Radio Universidad during several weeks was the only voice for the popular assembly movement; most of us were glued to it day and night.
Youngsters who operated the university station and hid for several weeks following the November 25 repression emerged to hear the panels of speakers and pose their own questions from the audience. One youngster asked, “Who decides who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?” The answer he received from a panelist was that it’s not a question of good and bad guys but of truth in reporting. I myself didn’t quite believe that, given the intensity of Internet blog hatred and the broadcasts by the PRI pirate station, Radio Ciudadana, or Radio Mapache (racoon), as the people call it.
In front of a changing audience, protected from the sun by a canvas tent, about 200 listened to each panel. The speakers (and the reporter invited from Imparcial, the non-impartial daily paper that supports the government, did not show up) laid out the history of media repression in Oaxaca. Ericel Gómez said, “Freedom of Expression is, and should be one of the fundamental constitutional rights, and we know it is indispensable in the struggle to respect and promote human rights.” He added that “the right is undermined by both the state and federal government who want to impede social change.”
Fernando Gálvez, a reporter whose articles appear in the national newspapers El Universal and La Jornada, read his half hour history of the attacks on Noticias and community radio. The audience applauded vigorously his forthright statements about the government’s attacks on both of those media. He also pointed out that there is scarcely ten percent of the population within reach of a daily newspaper. For example, he cited a town scarcely half an hour from the city, where as recently as 2005 no newspaper was available, the only source of news being the two main television channels. He indicated that most mountain towns (i.e., the majority of small towns in Oaxaca) have no telephone service, newspaper, Internet or radio.
Gálvez also expressed the opinion that Brad Will, shot in the neighborhood of Santa Lucia, was deliberately targeted in order to provide an excuse for the USA to back Calderón’s subsequent repression. The world proliferation of alternative media, he said, is because of discontent with corporate media.
The audience, comprised of youngsters, foreigners, academics, media people and Oaxaca citizens, participated with questions and statements following each panel. One woman who identified herself as a housewife assured the audience that she went to the zócalo several times during the teachers’ encampment. “It was like a fiesta,” she told the audience. Then when she arrived home to turn on the TV, she was totally surprised by the contradiction of what she had seen with her own eyes. Since then, she told us, when she goes to the zócalo she has to identify herself “like a delinquent” and her bag is searched. The failure of correspondence between reality and reporting, observed by all of us who live in Oaxaca, made a strong theme throughout the weekend presentations. The housewife accused the mainstream media by saying, “As reporters, you’re not selling peanuts, you’re selling information. Where is your professionalism? You may as well be selling peanuts and chocolate!” The leap in ratings for Channel Nine during the women’s takeover, and the enormous rise in popularity of Noticias, both reflect the desire for “the presentation of reality,” as one panelist called it.
Umberto Cruz of Radio Oro on the third panel began his presentation by saying, “I am sorry…” Radio Oro was one of the stations captured by the APPO, and like many of the media people who showed up he knows that much of what happens is well beyond his control. The open discussions are aimed at forcing the government to change, both law and behaviors. This government is a doubtful prospect, in my opinion, and especially with elections approaching.
Many corroborated the role of the TV in reducing the social movement to either obstructionism on the part of the APPO, or scenes of violence. Equally at fault is commercial radio. Present at one panel was the woman reporter Ixtli Martínez (W RADIO) who assured the audience she certainly didn’t take her orders from anyone, least of all Ulises Ruiz; she is thoroughly independent, and went to the barricades where she was threatened with a pistol! That was what she subsequently reported. In my opinion the audience rejection of Martinez’ self-defense of her role as a reporter was a prevalent attitude throughout. The mood reflects anger and hostility toward being treated as ignorant children or outright dupes.
While alternative media was mentioned frequently, it was also acknowledged that not many people can access the Internet beyond the main cities. The strongest demands focus on community radio. For towns that have an electric line but nothing else, community radio is seen as the life-line for organizing. That is certainly evident in the government refusal to permit local radio from gaining a foothold in towns where poverty keeps people – may I say – eating out of the hands of the caciques, and unable to organize.
The meetings will continue for one month with special tables and workshops, and conclude on March 25. On March 3, 10 and 17 the following themes will be addressed: State Radio and television , the Case of the Oaxaca Corporation for Radio and Television, the Public System of Indigenous Radio, and Social Movements and Alternative Media.
The series of forums was convened by the Center for Meetings and Intercultural Dialogue, The Autonomous University of Benito Juarez of Oaxaca, the Council for the Defense of the Natural and Cultural Patrimony of Oaxaca, the Mexican Association for the Right to Information and the University of the Earth in Oaxaca.
To the best of my knowledge, well-known author Carlos Monsiváis who was scheduled to speak at the conference on Sunday afternoon, didn’t arrive.