Thousands Protesting Mexican Networks' Coverage of Upcoming Election

Enrique Pena Nieto Protestors - H 2012
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Enrique Pena Nieto Protestors - H 2012

A student-led movement in Mexico accuses broadcasters Televisa and TV Azteca of backing front-running presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto.

MEXICO CITY -- Some print media outlets here are calling it the "Mexican Spring."

Thousands of people have taken to the streets this week to protest what they consider Mexican networks' biased coverage of a front-running presidential candidate. 

Spearheaded by university students and organized on social media sites, the movement gained traction on Wednesday with a massive protest march along a main Mexico City avenue, with the demonstration ending in front of a Televisa station.  

Protesters say Mexico's TV duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca, which controls about 95% of the national airwaves, has used its dominant position to support Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate of Mexico's former ruling party, known as the PRI. 

According to recent polls, Pena Nieto holds a double-digit lead over his opponents ahead of the July 1 election. The movement also calls into question the legitimacy of Mexico's democratic election process.  

The networks came under fire earlier this month for refusing to air a key presidential debate on their flagship stations, however, it was transmitted on two minor channels. Rather than broadcasting the debate on one of its main channels, No. 2 network TV Azteca opted to air a quarterfinals soccer match. TV Azteca chairman Ricardo Salinas Pliego suggested the futbol match would be a better ratings draw than the debate. 

Political analysts said the downplayed coverage of the debate ultimately hurt Pena Nieto's rivals, who saw the nation's first televised debate as an opportunity to narrow the gap on the frontrunner.

Adding to the growing criticism of the media's coverage of the campaign, the Mexican daily Reforma reported that while governor of the State of Mexico, Pena Nieto paid TV networks and radio stations millions of dollars to make favorable mention of him on newscasts. Pena Nieto denied the accusations, saying instead that his administration was paying for legitimate advertising. 

The 45-year-old Pena Nieto owes a large part of his popularity to his good looks and his telenovela star wife. But many here fear that a Pena Nieto victory would signal a return to the ways of old, when the PRI ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years. Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa once called the PRI's seven-decade grip on power "the perfect dictatorship."

President Felipe Calderon's conservative PAN party unseated the PRI in 2000.

In response to the latest protests, Televisa chairman Emilio Azcarraga Jean made the following statement on Twitter: "At Televisa we value young people and we listen to their opinions. We are always open to them."

Protesters have vowed to stage more marches throughout Mexico in the coming weeks.