Market Failure on Purpose
Lack of Data Protects the Powerful
The information about the media owners, managers and editors is scarce and in numerous occasions confusing, contradictory or nonexistent. The analysis of MOM Mexico reveals that most of the media websites do not publish clearly who the shareholders of the companies are and what the specific responsibility of the managers is.
On the other hand, the Mexican government has not provided for regulation of media transparency so that either the media outlets themselves or certified private market research companies would have to publish reliable data about audience. Only the television companies listed on the Mexican or New York Stock Exchange have the obligation to publish their company data – but due to financial market, not media regulation. For this reason, Televisa, TV Azteca, Telecomunicaciones (América Móvil) and Radio Centro are the only companies that publish some information about shareholder structures and ratings.
The public cannot know about the audience of a specific radio or television channel unless the broadcaster hires a market research firm, such as Ibope, HR Media or INRA. This happens only by those media outlets that can afford to pay for it, and even then, the results are not being publicly available or in a few cases only in parts.
In the printed press, the media outlets are supposed to report their circulation to the Ministry of Interior, which should make this information public through the National Registry of Printed Media. However, experts in the field and some media mangers agree that these numbers are normally overestimations. There is no reliable institution in this case either.
Some media outlets publish periodically the numbers for their online media audience. This field of market research is normally covered by ComScore México, a company that has gained certain legitimacy in the communication sector. Although there is no consensus about the reliability of this information, its results about the monthly visits of some websites are cited quite often and have provoked competition among the different digital platforms.
Ambiguity on the Official Web Pages
After analyzing 42 media outlets, MOM Mexico identified 20 media outlets (48%) that offer some information about their companies and management on their web pages. Whereas, to know more details for the other 22 media outlets (52%), one must access external publications, academic studies and journalistic reports. In general, one could get information about who the owners and editorial managers are, but normally it remains unclear if they have responsibilities in other media outlets that are part of the same group.
The television and the broadcasting companies are the least specific with the information they offer. Televisa, TV Azteca, Imagen TV and Multimedios – the biggest commercial TV companies in the country and owners of seven out of eight analyzed TV channels – do not inform on their official websites who oversees their media content.
For example, Grupo Televisa announced in January 2017 the appointment of Isaac Lee Possin as General Director of Content in Televisa and in Univision, without specifying if he will also be in charge for the newscasts. Lee resigned from this position in July 2018. Televisa does not inform either if Bernardo Gómez Martínez, Executive Co-President in Grupo Televisa S.A.B., was released from his duties as the responsible for contents of Televisa’s newscast platform Noticieros Televisa.
TV Azteca informed in October 2017 about the appointment of Alberto Ciurana as the responsible for television and distribution of content for TV Azteca, also in this case without specifying if he will be in charge for the newscasts.
The conglomerate Multimedios, owner of Milenio TV and Multimedios Televisión, cites Carlos Marín Martínez as the General Editor-in-chief of Grupo Milenio but it is unknow if he is also the director of the TV channel, the radio broadcasters, the printed media and the digital portal of the group.
Imagen TV simply refrains from publishing any information about editorial responsibilities.
If the Mexican media are not so keen to inform who holds the managing positions and who is in charge of the news, they are even less transparent when it comes to their property. Except for three media outlets analyzed in this study, which are undoubtedly owned by the state, the share of the identified owners of the rest of the 39 analyzed media outlets is unknown.
MOM Mexico sent written questionnaires to all of the selected public and commercial media twice, but it did not receive a single response from any of them.
The ownership shares of all commercial media analyzed in this study seem to be a mystery. In 2017 it was announced that Televisa would purchase part of the web portal SDPnoticias, which turned from an independent digital blog to becoming a part of the most powerful media group in the country. Its webpage however, does not inform about its relationship with Televisa. The same goes for W Radio or the satirical website Deforma; these media do not inform either that they belong to Grupo Televisa.
Opacity is the Norm
It seems that the ownership of the media is not only a mystery for the public, but also in some cases for the authorities themselves. The conglomerate Grupo Multimedios controls free-to-air television channels, around four dozen radio stations, one pay television news network and one of the most visited web portals on national level. Grupo Multimedios holds these concessions through three companies. According to their shareholder structure, published by the Federal Institute of Telecommunications, these companies are subsidiaries of MM Radio S.A. de C.V. The latter also holds concessions, but the Institute does not publish its shareholder structure.
Grupo Televisa S.A.B., on the other hand, denied informing the National Electoral Institute about the shareholder structure of Televimex S.A. de C.V, which is its concessionary company for the television channels. Grupo Televisa was supposed to share this information as part of a sanctions process against it because it installed electoral campaigns in the Azteca Stadium and it additionally transmitted them during a football match of Club América. Azteca Stadium and Club América are owned by Televisa.
Grupo Televisa S.A.B. and TV Azteca S.A.B. de C.V., the two biggest television companies in the country, are listed on stock exchange markets, and their major shareholders are two trusts: the trust Azcárraga and the trust Banco Azteca, S.A. number F/710, respectively.
In the 2016 annual report of the Mexican Stock Exchange Market, Grupo Televisa lists William H. Gates III (Bill Gates) as the second major shareholder (7.7%) in the group, by adding the shares of Cascade Investment, L.L.C. and Bill and Melinda Foundation Trust, citing numbers from 2014. This year, Michael Larson, the manager of Gates’ investments resigned from his position on the Management Board of Televisa. Cascade Investment is no longer a shareholder in Televisa since at least November 2017. Bill and Melinda Foundation Trust have not increased their participation since at least the first semester of 2016.
TV Azteca S.A.B. de C.V. is part of Grupo Salinas; and for the latter is known only what has been published on its website. The founder and president of the consortium is Ricardo Benjamín Salinas Pliego. This multimillionaire announced in 2017 the appointment of three of his children: Ninfa, Benjamín and Hugo Salinas Sada as Vice Presidents of the Management Board’s Executive Committee of Grupo Salinas. If his children are shareholders in the Group, or if the Executive Committee has other members - it remains unknown to the public.
Grupo Televisa and Grupo Salinas are not engaged only in the media sector; the first group owns casinos and the second offers financial services such as non-bank loans and money transfers. Their owners are two of the richest men in the country according to the 2019 ranking of the Forbes magazine, and their companies are among the most powerful ones in Mexico.
The opacity of the Mexican media goes hand in hand with the increase of the relatively new phenomenon of online disinformation campaigns (also referred to as ‘fake news’) spread through ad hoc media outlets, that operate only for a few weeks or months and disappear again. Hiding who stands behind them is another essential element that adds to the non-transparency of the Mexican media.