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Loss of radio news program dismays, angers Mexicans

January 19, 2008|Reed Johnson | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — For some Mexicans, it was as if a combination of Diane Sawyer and Christiane Amanpour had been summarily bounced from the airwaves.

That's been the widespread reaction to the Jan. 4 decision by journalist Carmen Aristegui to end her prominent 5-year-old morning talk show on the capital's W Radio, due to what she described as growing editorial differences with the station's co-owners, Mexico's multimedia giant Grupo Televisa and Grupo Prisa, Spain's largest media conglomerate.

Aristegui has said little publicly about the matter, granting only one interview to the liberal magazine Proceso, in which the veteran journalist gave few specifics behind the reasons for her departure.

She indicated that she believed her show, "Hoy por Hoy" (Day by Day), had annoyed powerful interests, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Norberto Rivera and President Felipe Calderon's administration.

"Everything seems to indicate that there is someone that called for my head and someone that yielded it," Aristegui was quoted as saying.

Aristegui's departure from W Radio has set off a flurry of op-ed commentary in Mexico City newspapers. Several commentators have denounced the incident as an act of censorship and harassment by media and governmental interests.

"Carmen, the way she said things, they didn't like that in the presidency," Marta Lamas, a leading women's rights and abortion rights advocate, said at a Friday morning pro-Aristegui rally in the capital's downtown. "I think they just didn't renew the contract in a gesture to make the president happy or the government happy."

Televisa and Prisa have denied putting any pressure on Aristegui to leave. Televisa ran a newspaper ad Thursday saying that it had never attempted to influence the content of Aristegui's radio program.

"Grupo Televisa reiterates that never" has it intervened "in the editorial decisions of news," the ad read in part.

Reached by phone Friday at his office here, Manuel Compean, Televisa's director of communication, said the company would have no further comment.

One of Latin America's best-known journalists, with a reputation as a tough but fair interviewer, Aristegui consistently tackles subjects that many other Mexican journalists tend to avoid. She has reported extensively on the continuing disputes surrounding the 2006 presidential election, in which the conservative Calderon narrowly defeated his leftist opponent, former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

She also has reported on a lawsuit accusing Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony with conspiring to protect a priest accused of child abuse. Last year, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that he had no jurisdiction, effectively ending the case.

Aristegui continues to anchor a news talk show on CNN en Espanol.

At Friday's rally, about 200 supporters listened to speakers praise Aristegui and declare that the cancellation of her program posed a threat to free speech and to Mexico's movement toward fuller democracy. One speaker, historian Lorenzo Meyer of the Colegio de Mexico, said that because most Mexicans get their news from the Televisa and TV Azteca networks, the country lacks a plurality of news and opinion.

"It's a democracy in form, but it doesn't have substance," he said. "It's 'light' democracy."

In a telephone interview, Patricia Ortega, a professor of media and communications at the Autonomous Metropolitan University here, called Aristegui's departure "lamentable."

"It closes a space in which distinct opinions could be heard, in which could be heard another type of voice," she said.

Ortega said that Aristegui's sudden exit emphasized the need to establish other types of media in which alternative points of view could be heard.

"In our society we need more spaces in which we can have access to more complete information, to other versions of reality," she said.

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reed.johnson@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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