Retreat in the name of progressivity

In 2014, when the LFTR was approved, Congress imposed on radio and television concessionaires the obligation to “clearly distinguish news information from the opinion of the person presenting it” as a right of the audience. Later, the IFT issued guidelines to enforce the obligation.

“When you’ve gone the wrong way, going backwards is a way forward,” says GK Chesterton, author of Father Brown’s Tales. Going forward on the same route and making progress is not necessarily synonymous, given the fallibility of our legislators. When the evidence shows that certain norms have more negative than positive effects, the principle of progressivity should guide us to correct, not to persevere in error.

In 2014, when the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act (LFTR) was approved, Congress imposed on radio and television concessionaires the obligation to “clearly distinguish news information from the opinion of the person presenting it” as a right of the audience . . Later, the newly created Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) issued guidelines to make the obligation effective.

In the face of criticism and complaints, due to the onerous nature of this burden for the communicators and the no benefit to the audiences, Congress acted on the matter. In October 2017, the LFTR was amended to repeal both the obligation imposed in Article 256 of the LFTR, as well as the IFT guidelines. It also introduced a model of self-regulation for radio and television concessionaires, forcing them to issue a code of ethics and appoint an audience defender.

However, in reviewing an amparo promoted by the Center for Strategic Litigation for the Defense of Human Rights AC, the First Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Nation (SCJN) ruled in favor of the unconstitutionality of the 2017 reform of the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act. In the name of the progressive principle of human rights, it reinstated the obligation of radio and television concessionaires to clearly distinguish news information from the communicator’s opinion. It also abolished self-regulation, for a controversial model based on litigation and the threat of sanctions.

The decision of the First Chamber represents a setback for two reasons: firstly because of its paternalistic approach to the trials and secondly because, instead of protecting the freedoms of expression and information, it places more obstacles in their way. The ministers apparently start from two wrong points of departure.

First, they assume that radio listeners and viewers, as minors, do not have the ability to distinguish between news and opinions. Therefore, they conclude that they need the communicators to point it out to them throughout the news broadcast. Second, they also seem to assume that news program audiences are merely passive media topics.

They seem to be ignoring the fact that there are several options within radio and television, not to mention those now offered by the internet and social networks. Along with plurality and competition, the best defense of audiences is remote control.

The most worrying part of the First Chamber’s ruling has to do with its potential inhibitory effect on the expression of critical opinions in radio and television news. Regulated regulations in the name of hearing rights will expose traders and broadcasters to the ongoing threat of litigation.

As we have seen in other cases, especially in electoral matters, restrictions on freedom of expression are used strategically to protect those in power from public scrutiny and criticism. It is they, and not the audiences, who have the ability to deploy litigation activity to silence uncomfortable voices.

* Professor at CIDE.

Twitter: @BenitoNacif

Benito Nacif


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Dr. Benito Nacif is a professor in the Division of Political Studies of the Center for Economic Research and Education (CIDE). He was an election adviser to the National Electoral Institute (INE) from 2014 to 2020 and of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) from 2008 to 2014.

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