The Narco Effect and the Politicization of Mexican Media

An array of arms captured in an operation against a cartel in Mexico City in 2008.

Despite its steadfast ethnic and cultural values, Mexico has teetered close to collapsing for several years now. This is primarily owing to drug cartels. Essentially, Mexican states and the Mexican federal government have been locked in a power struggle with drug lords pushing to smuggle narcotics north. Once they are across the border, many of the smugglers purchase cheap guns and ammunition in states like Arizona and Texas. The weapons are then transported back into Mexico. For the Mexican federal government, this has become a huge, violent problem, particularly when it comes to boosting confidence throughout the Mexican citizenry.

If the Mexican media were really propagating any assurance to its audience (in response to illegal weapon smuggling), why, then, are townspeople flocking out of drug-ridden cities? The cartels are not only well armed, but they also have an indirect and influential reach across Mexican society and media. To put it simply, what would normally be a law-and-order issue has also become both societal and political.

And then there's the issue of narcotic-themed folk songs. Many popular musicians are patronized by the cartels these days. The resulting songs apparently seek to glorify the cartels themselves along with the drug trade in entirety. While this is well known, things may slowly inch their way into television and radio. Cartels are all about "businesses first," regardless of criminality. Like any other business, cartels are highly diversified at times, but may resort to politicizing the media in an effort to peg deeper into society. The Mexican radio market is especially large, and is often a platform for narco folk singers.

The war against drug cartels, despite being an issue of law enforcement, is undoubtedly a political issue. President Felipe Calderon has made busting the cartels a top priority. The cartels pose a threat to the Mexican government and can easily influence legislation via the media. To make matters worse, action against the cartels also seems to be stuck in the mire of poverty. Thousands of Mexicans have died or have been financially devastated during Calderon's tenure, and that has not marked his time in office all that well. Midterm elections weren't too pretty for him, despite engaging in mass media campaigns.

Still, it is not as simple as to whether Calderon has or has not been doing his job effectively. The television landscape likely has a contributing role. For years, Mexican politics has been dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). This is something that the election of President Vincente Fox shattered for the first time in ages. Yet, the PRI has had links to Televisa. For decades, Televisa had been the defacto unofficial state media. Ever since the PRI lost power, Televisa's dominance has slightly decreased.

Political influence is always a slightly murky issue, no matter where it takes place. But uncommon complications in Mexico make for a media landscape much different than the one seen in, for instance, the United States. Unfortunately, Mexican media outlets may have very little left to bargain for, especially with the heave of newly established radio stations and television channels that are striving to monopolize. Do they really strive to give their audience what they want, or what the people of Mexico need for strengthening morale? In the end, injecting controversial ideas into a flat-screen-obsessed society won't really help, but suppressing negative political influences that may trickle down into your living room, will.

Naheed Ali is a best-selling author and speaker. His book, "Diabetes and You: a Comprehensive Holistic Approach" recently became the top diabetes book on Amazon.com. He can be reached at NaheedAli.com.

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