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The New York Times execution wall

Mr. Ahmed’s report shows a number of loopholes. Perhaps the most important being that he avoided mentioning the role played by Mexico TV companies in this scenario
A speech in The New York Times newsroom after the announcement of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners - Photo: Nycmstar/Public domain
28/12/2017
17:11
Roberto Rock
Mexico City
La Silla Rota
-A +A

In the existing printed media crisis, The New York Times remains the most influential newspaper in the world. There are a number of reasons for this: its considerable collection of “Pulitzer Prizes “, its coverage of news events, its almost 170-year presence, its refusal to be purchased by any of the large media corporations in the world; the prestige of its owner family.

“The Times”, as it has come to be known by many, is not the most important newspaper in the world inasmuch as the content published in its pages rises to expectation of its name, but because apart from the many reasons described above, the newspaper has acknowledged, more often than not, flaws in its news coverages, almost always caused by unscrupulous reporters, often hungry for fame.

In 2003, Jayson Blair, 27, left “The Times” after a prolific four-year drive in its newsroom, in the midst of scandal pointing at a “journalistic fraud” that was not detected by what was expected to be zealous editors. The inquiry (Siegal Committee), instructed by the newspaper, resulted in an extensive report published as a front-page story, in which Blair’s blatant falsehood practices on specific news events were keenly described, including overstatement and actual malice in the coverage of news events, as well as a craving to embarrass his then-employer.

What the report of the inquiry failed to mention was that Blair also benefited from a certain social tolerance in his workplace for being part of the African-American ethnic minority, apart from the indolence of his superiors towards his work.

Eventually, Blair published Burning Down My Master’s House: My Life at The New York Times (New Millennium Press, 2004) which had his direct editing managers and several senior staff leave the company. The issue at hand became a historical affront to the “Times” credibility, as well as an example of crisis management from a media outlet of this stature.

Earlier this week, on Christmas Day, the emerging correspondent of New York’s newspaper in Mexico, Azam Ahmed, published an extensive reportwith a call in its front page, with the thesis that the Peña Nieto administration dictates the editorial criteria of Mexican newspapers by means of publicity contracts, which according to the report, that the present administration has spent two-thousand-million dollars on.

Personally, I join the ranks of those who consider that public funding of the media, both at a federal or state level, are used to serve an evil purpose that grants broad discretionary powers to public officials that rise as almighty lords and censors of particularly small media outlets or fearful editors. It is not surprising that press chiefs around the country claim a percentage of the publicity authorized by them. Such model affects equally the professional media and, most certainly, to the exercise of freedom of expression. This model has ceased being useful for everybody and it is imperative to have it changed, as it has been established by a recent resolution of Mexico's Supreme Court.

However, Mr. Ahmed’s report shows a number of loopholes. Perhaps the most important being that he avoided mentioning the role played by Mexico TV companies in this scenario, specifically Televisa and Televisión Azteca, which together amass at least 70% of any budget authorized by the Mexican government to mass media outlets; scandalously subordinated to political power. These companies are additionally benefited from government contracts on telecom services, among many others. Yet, this situation did not deserve a single paragraph in “The Times” report. This cannot be considered a minor omission.

Ahmed's report steers serious criticism towards various Mexican newspapers, yet singles out one, in particular, EL UNIVERSAL daily, by which he discloses plainly its real intent.
We are talking about a media outlet which encompasses two of the largest circulation daily newspapers in Mexico, EL UNIVERSAL, and EL GRÁFICO, with over a century in the market and with a leading internet presence in the country, and yet this is not the company receiving the largest government budget, as the FUNDAR report, cited tangentially by Mr. Ahmed, shows.

el_universal.jpg
EL UNIVERSAL headquarters in Mexico City - File photo/ EL UNIVERSAL

Juan Francisco Ealy, owner of EL UNIVERSAL does not own construction companies or of any other kind that rely on public funds, unlike some of its competitors.

This extra omission, among others, plus the practice of consigning falsehoods or half-truths on behalf of the correspondent, specifically in the case of EL UNIVERSAL, implies a logic that could be described as actual malice, whether from his part or from that of whom prompted the information to him. If either of these cases was confirmed, we would be describing a journalist unworthy of working for “The Times”.

I should point out that I worked for nearly 35 years at EL UNIVERSAL, a daily in which I only publish a biweekly column these days.
Of its internal efforts, I know as much as is common knowledge to almost any Mexican journalist.

I know, for instance, that an editor of investigative journalism (social stories with no political effect), who is cited by the story in “The Times” as outraged by “censorship” taking place within EL UNIVERSAL (which he suggests led him to resign from the newspaper), was in fact dismissed due to alcohol abuse, a fact actually displayed during a TV interview he gave on behalf of the newspaper. The incident remains videotaped.

Ahmed notes that a group of contributors to EL UNIVERSAL quit over their disagreement of the news coverage said daily had of the new Anticorruption Law, a fact which was allegedly “commanded” by the Mexican government, and, yet, he fails to cite that the then-Chief Editor was fired as a result of said news coverage.
Including this fact would have jettisoned any conspiracy theory.

Neither does the correspondent notes that the Reforma daily had a similar crisis in which part of its staff resigned, nor that its group of reporters covering Mexico City affairs was considerably downsized as a result of alleged corrupt practices from agents of Mexico City government. Television companies (Televisa and Televisión Azteca), as well as the Reforma daily, are clearly the great beneficiaries of the “execution wall” staged by “the Times” correspondent.

Even more so, as perhaps the most delicate flippancy of Mr. Ahmed’s work has been to have “The Times” on the side of the presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya, in the middle of an electoral campaign, by saying that he brought a successful claim for non-material damage against EL UNIVERSAL, when the judge of the case simply concluded that the facts regarding the huge personal and family patrimony of Mr. Anaya are imprecise and whose origin Mr. Anaya has decided not to have cleared.

For Mexico purposes, one has to remind itself that this type of media war is associated with electoral times.
Now then, perhaps we should start getting used to the fact that foreign journalists and their media outlets, out of negligence or conviction, are deciding to take sides as well.

This article was originally published in Spanish in La Silla Rota news outlet.

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