Mexican Student Movement Challenges Media Manipulation of Elections

Photo: Nicolas Tavira

In May, Televisa, the biggest communication company in the Spanish-speaking world, appeared to present student protests against PRI Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto as populated by fake students. In response, students from the Ibero released a video showing their university ID cards. “There were 131 students,” says mathematics student Diana Ponce. “Those who support them are known as the 132.” The movement has swelled in numbers uniting students from both private and public universities.

Photo:  Nicolas TaviraDiana Ponce has a cardboard box on her head. Her face peers out through a square hole. She smiles and lifts her hands drawing attention to the fake TV buttons placed on the side and the antenna poking out on top. Diana, a 22-year-old student of mathematics, is a member of the Mexican student movement, Yo Soy 132.

On May 11, a large group of students at the IberoAmericano, one of Mexico City’s private universities picketed a campaign event by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. Waving banners and with shouts of “Coward” and “The Ibero doesn’t want you” they forced Peña Nieto to cut short his visit. As student recordings of the demonstration spread on social networking sites the mainstream media opted to present the candidate’s visit as a success.

Diana explains how Televisa, the biggest communication company in the Spanish-speaking world, appeared to present the protests as being orchestrated by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leader of the left-wing party. “They tried to suggest that the people there were not real students,” she states. In response, students from the Ibero released a video showing their university ID cards. “There were 131 students,” says Diana. “Those who support them are known as the 132.”

The movement has swelled in numbers uniting students from both private and public universities. Angered by biased television coverage in favour of Peña Nieto, they have been calling for debate on the issue. Diana puts up two hands to stop the box from wobbling. She gestures to her outfit. “The idea is to inform the public that the press is bought off and favours one candidate,” she states. Students are concerned that it is television, not informed voters that will affect results come Election Day. And their fears appear to have been confirmed. Rumours that Peña Nieto had been paying for favourable television coverage appeared to be confirmed this month when the British newspaper, the Guardian, published documents showing fees paid by the presidential candidate to Televisa when he was Governor of the State of Mexico.

Tipped to win the election, Peña Nieto has come under increased pressure over the last month. Two demonstrations against media manipulation and the PRI candidate saw tens of thousands of people march in Mexico City. Smaller marches were held in states throughout Mexico. Those belonging to the movement state that they do not favour one candidate over another, but many are especially critical of Peña Nieto.

Diana explains that the polished image of Peña Nieto is a far cry from the reality. “People are angry at how he is presented,” she continues. “There is no mention of the debt, the murder of women and the atrocities that were committed in Atenco. All this happened when he was governor of Mexico,” she states. What worries students is that Peña Nieto is nothing more than a front for the PRI party, which held continuous power for 71 years.

Photo:  Nicolas TaviraA refusal by Mexico’s main television channels to broadcast the political debate at the beginning of May, preferring instead to show a football match, caused outcry. Faced with growing criticism and pressure from the movement, the second debate in June was shown on public TV. Diana sees this as a real achievement. The movement is now pushing to inform as many people as possible about the options open to them. Events are held in public places and on public transport. Members of the movement hand out leaflets and have even used sporting events to get their message across on mainstream TV. Students have organised a day in which they will have their own audience with the presidential candidates. Peña Nieto has so far declined to participate.

Mariana Vasquez joined the movement within the first few days. She says its success lies with social networking sites. “This is a movement that started online. We no longer get our information from television,” the 21-year-old economics students states. She explains how the movement does not have a leader, preferring instead to organise itself using committees and forums online. Fellow student, Ernesto Echehoyen, 21, explains that the fact that the movement was born in a university means that people are more likely to trust it. “We know that it is not going to be political,” he states simply.

The movement is not only drawing university students. The fact that it has a significant online presence means that younger people are also joining up. Karla is a 17-year-old high school pupil. She says that the movement is especially attractive to people her age because they are always online. She explains that she helps the movement by publishing as much as she can about it on her social networking sites. “I am annoyed and disgusted that people would say that we are paid to protest and that we are part of a political party,” she states. “A lot of high school students are involved in this protest. The elections are very important to us. Whoever wins will be in charge of our future.”

The movement is now focusing on Election Day. There is currently a campaign for people to upload photos of themselves voting on social media sites. Elisabet Torres, a 32-year-old language teacher at one of Mexico City’s public universities explains that this is a way of preventing fraud. In 2006, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador narrowly lost to the right-wing candidate and current president, Felipe Calderon. The rumour spread that the elections had been rigged. “The movement is determined that we will have free and fair elections,” she states. “Come Election Day we will all be watching carefully.”

Whatever the result, members of the movement say that their work will not stop when voting is over. “We have to keep the pressure up,” says Elisabeth. “We will be monitoring to make sure the politicians promises are kept.” “This movement will not die out. Behind every student there is a family,” she says. “They are being informed and they in turn are telling someone else.”

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