Mexican journalist and media researcher Veronica Sánchez researches watchdog journalism in her country. In the BredowCast, she talks to Johanna Sebauer about the late development of critical reporting in Mexico, its current challenges and why she, while working as a journalist, would never touch the buffet table at press conferences.
Watchdog Journalism is a young concept in Mexico. As a general trend, it only started in the late 1970. Before that the political elite and the press in Mexico were closely tied together in, what scholars now call, a “relationship of convenience.” The press offered loyalty to the powerful and the powerful, in turn, provided the press with economic benefits. Since Mexico experienced economic growth until the 1990s as well as social and political stability, nobody seemed to miss critical voices. “During this time many journalists saw themselves as a part of the political system not as someone to hold the powerful accountable,” according to Veronica Sánchez.
However, things started to change. An emblematic turning point was the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. In many corners of the world, the year 1968 was a year of civic upheaval and Mexico was no exception. During a peaceful student protest in the Mexico City neighbourhood Tlatelolco 200 to 300 students were killed by the Mexican military and police forces. Mexican news did not report factually about these events. Only an article in the British Guardian revealed the actual number of fatalities. People started to become suspicious and demanded a more critical press.
New Style of Journalism
Between the 1970 and the 2000s, Mexico’s media landscape experienced a liberalization. Many new newspapers appeared and wanted to bring a new style of journalism to the table. Among them Reforma, a daily newspaper, where Veronica Sánchez worked at for four years.
Through outlets like Reforma, the journalistic profession began to implement a new self-conception, starting at the dress code: “When attending a press conference, men had to wear a tie and women formal clothing. We also took the rule of not accepting any gifts from our sources very seriously. We would not take anything from the buffet table that they usually offered to journalists at press conferences. Not even a glass of water.”
Media Industry in Crisis
Today Mexican news organizations, like many news organizations around the globe, face the challenges brought along by digitalization. A big problem is funding. Mexican media houses struggle to keep their businesses running and the root of this problem can be traced back to the questionable ties between the press and the political elite of the country. Due to decades of You-Scratch-My-Back-And-I’ll-Scratch-Yours-Type of symbiosis, Mexican media organizations were not able to build a solid foundation of trust with their audience.
The solution? For Veronica Sánchez, quality journalism is a public good and should be treated as such. “That implies that it should be guaranteed by the state,” she says. “There should be a budget designated to guarantee that the journalistic profession continues to exist.”
Freedom of the Press in Mexico