Friday, May 4, 2012
Mexico's two major television channels plan to air a championship soccer match on Sunday instead of a live debate among the country's presidential candidates.
Mexican voters will get their first chance this Sunday to see the country’s presidential candidates debate on national television. Problem is, they’ll have to decide whether to watch the debate, or a major national soccer match.
Sunday’s presidential candidate debate is the first of just two to be televised nationally leading up to the July 1 elections. But it’s questionable how many people will be watching. Neither of the country’s two major television networks — TV Azteca and Televisa — plan to broadcast the debate on their main channels. Instead, they’ll broadcast a quarterfinals match between two top-tier soccer teams, Tigres and Morelia.
The decision has sparked outrage among many politically minded Mexicans, some of whom believe that by relegating the debate to smaller channels watched by only a fraction of viewers, the media conglomerates are favoring presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
He holds a near 20-point lead in the polls over his nearest contender, Josefina Vásquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN).
“I mean there’s all kinds of speculation on this,” said Eric Olson, senior associate at the Washington D.C.-based Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Criticism has come down especially hard on TV Azteca, which will broadcast the presidential debate on a channel that doesn’t have national coverage.
Televisa will broadcast the debate on a channel with a smaller audience than its main channel, but which it claims reaches 96 million viewers and covers 92 percent of the national territory.
Leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has called on the government to force the stations to broadcast the debate.
Despite accusations of partisanship, Olson thinks it’s more likely the TV stations are striking back at the country’s Federal Electoral Institute for a 2007 rule that limited the amount of money candidates can spend to broadcast political ads. Now each candidate gets a certain number of vouchers they can use to pay for ads, but the total amount collected by commercial television stations is much lower than in the past, Olson said.
The networks could also simply be making a smart business decision by broadcasting the nation’s favorite pastime instead of a debate among candidates who have elicited only lukewarm interest among the public.
According to polls, nearly one quarter of the electorate hasn’t yet decided on a candidate.
In response to criticism for TV Azteca’s decision to air the soccer match over the debate, the network’s billionaire owner, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, sent a message on Twitter that said: “If you want to see the debate, watch it on Televisa. If not, watch soccer on Azteca. I’ll show you the ratings the next day.”
Olson said if faced with a similar choice, U.S. viewers would probably pick sports.
“If there was a quarterfinals of the NBA finals up against a debate in a U.S. presidential election, I have no doubt NBA finals would probably win,” Olson said.