Watchers of goings-on in Mexico have long worried that the drug cartels might grow powerful enough to start buying themselves whole political parties and elections. But Sunday’s presidential election, which brought the country’s traditional political oligarchy back to power, shows that the cartels face a major contender for influence over national politics: television networks.
The telegenic young Enrique Peña Nieto easily won the election, bringing his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) back to power for the first time in twelve years. Previously, the PRI had ruled Mexico for 71 years, establishing an upper-class oligarchy in a country that until recently was composed of a very few rich people and a huge number of desperately poor ones.
One of the campaign’s dominant issues was Mr. Peña’s close relationship with Televisa, the nation’s leading television network, which has a dominant market share. When he was governor of the state surrounding Mexico City, he cultivated a close relationship with the network. An arrangement whereby the state provided Televisa with tens of millions of dollars in exchange for advertising and positive news coverage has become a topic of heated debate. It has further emerged that the producers at Televisa decided to raise Mr. Peña’s profile through a marketing strategy that has been hugely successful for the network’s soap operas: the ubiquitous telenovelas.