Thu, Jun 28, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Pre-election TV bias surfaces in Mexico

‘TEAM HANDCOCK’:Documents reveal that Televisa commissioned videos to rubbish the presidential frontrunner’s rivals in 2009, despite the network’s denials

The Guardian, Mexico City

A secretive unit inside Mexico’s predominant TV network set up and funded a campaign for Enrique Pena Nieto, who is the favorite to win Sunday’s presidential election, according to people familiar with the operation, and documents.

The new revelations of bias within Televisa, the world’s biggest Spanish-language broadcaster, challenge the company’s claim to be politically impartial as well as Pena Nieto’s insistence that he never had a special relationship with Televisa.

The unit — known as “team Handcock,” in what sources say was a Televisa codename for the politician and his allies — commissioned videos promoting the candidate and his PRI party and rubbishing the party’s rivals in 2009. The documents suggest the team distributed the videos to thousands of e-mail addresses, and pushed them on Facebook and YouTube, where some of them can still be seen.

The nature of the relationship between Pena Nieto and Televisa has been a key issue in Sunday’s election since the development last month of a student movement focused on perceived media manipulation of public opinion in the candidate’s favor.

Televisa refused to comment on the specifics of the documents, but denied suggestions it had favored the PRI, saying it had done political work for all the major parties.

The documents, which consist of scanned copies of signed contracts as well as other instructions and proposals, suggest that Televisa subsidiaries and named Televisa executives took part in the project, putting their employees and knowhow to work to the benefit of Pena Nieto in the buildup to crucial 2009 midterm congressional elections.

The material follows the publication by the Guardian three weeks ago of a cache of documents from 2005 that appeared to detail the network’s sale of favorable coverage to a number of politicians, including Pena Nieto.

The documents also appeared to contain evidence of a smear campaign orchestrated from the company against Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who at the time was preparing his first presidential candidacy. Lopez Obrador is currently Pena Nieto’s closest rival in the presidential race, though most polls put him more than 10 points behind the leader.

Televisa has dismissed these allegations as libelous, questioned the authenticity of the documents and demanded an apology.

According to several well-placed sources, the Handcock project (“Hancock” in some documents) emerged in the runup to the 2009 midterm congressional elections.

The resounding victory that Pena Nieto delivered for the PRI in the State of Mexico in those elections helped cement his claim to the presidential candidacy.

One source said the team worked in semi-secrecy in Televisa’s offices, bound by confidentiality contracts and encouraged not to use Televisa e-mail addresses or Televisa IPs to distribute material. A second source said external companies contracted by Televisa to produce videos and other materials destined for the Web were also bound by secrecy because of confidentiality agreements.

One of the leaders of the team was Alejandra Lagunes, then director-general of Televisa Interactive Media, the sources said. Lagunes later left the company and went on to help Pena Nieto’s chosen successor as governor of the State of Mexico win the local election last year. She currently holds the position of “co-ordinator of digital and social network strategy” in Pena Nieto’s presidential campaign team.

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