On 24 March, the Mexican government introduced a telecommunications bill in the Senate that is intended to supplement existing federal telecoms legislation in force since 1995. It is officially designed to restore the balance of power between the giants in the market and the small players.
However, the draft has aroused strong reactions because of its provisions that would give the government the right to monitor media content. Senators are due to start considering the proposals later today.
Some parts of the bill could favour media diversity while others would allow the creation of a media surveillance system by the government. President Enrique Pena Nieto has said he wants to boost diversity. The market is currently ruled by two telecoms giants, America Movil, owned by telephone mogul Carlos Slim, and Televisa, the country’s main TV broadcaster.
One of the trickiest issues in the bill is a proposal to downgrade the Federal Telecommunications Institute, which has so far been independent. The draft aims to bring it closer to the government. It would also give the government the right to oversee media content “in priority cases, exceptionally and in emergencies”. Several articles would give the government the unprecedented right to intervene in communications traffic, such as blocking telecoms signals in places or during events regarded as “critical for public security”.
“Reporters Without Borders is concerned at the danger to the fundamental ban on censorship guaranteed by article seven of the Mexican constitution,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the organization’s Americas desk.
“The principle of editorial neutrality guaranteed under the constitution should not be ignored in the new bill. The organization is particularly worried that the government will have the right under article 197 to block access to content, applications or services regarded as endangering national security. This article’s lack of precision leaves the door open for prior censorship. Where do you draw the line between an attack on national security and a news story in the public interest?”
The bill also contains discriminatory elements. The new licensing system provides for commercial licences for 20 to 30 years and 10 to 20 years for government and public franchises. Community radio stations, which fall into the latter category, will suffer the discrimination of shorter-duration licences, which must be renewed more frequently.