On top of all the problems facing the media in Mexico – a polarised society, economic contraction, COVID-19 – there are also frequent attacks from a populist president who accuses the media of unfair coverage and corruption. The president is getting more popular, and people are trusting the media less.
Every day at 7am, the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO), holds a press conference. Broadcast live, the mañaneras – morning briefings – give the president the opportunity to address the nation. Often, journalists who challenge him find themselves on the end of a verbal bashing. He prefers to take questions from what he refers to as ‘blessed social networks’ or from sympathetic fringe characters such as a bowtie-wearing YouTuber.1
López Obrador enthusiastically uses YouTube to connect with voters on social media, going over the heads of the traditional media, parts of which he accuses of having acted as propagandists for his predecessors.2 His own government has, however, been generous in its state advertising for supportive outlets.
The approach is working for the president, whose popularity – around 50% at the time of writing – is arguably one of the highest figures in the history of Mexico. An economic nationalist who comes from the left, he espouses equality, vilifies the intelligentsia and appeals to the largest, lower income, segments of society. Combined with his aggressive tone towards those who question him, the approach has echoes of Trump and Bolsonaro. Like them, his handling of COVID-19 has been criticised, in his case for low rates of testing, mask avoidance, and a slow vaccination roll-out.
The president’s attacks could be one reason for falling trust in the media among Mexicans – this is just one of a handful of countries in this year’s survey to see declining figures.
Though by no means alone in seeing its trust figures falling, digital-native news brand Aristegui News saw the biggest drop in confidence, perhaps as a result of the attacks by the president and his government on publications with greater political influence. In our 2019 report we noted that brands which seemed to have an affinity with the then new president, including Aristegui, might have been expecting to benefit from higher trust levels. That has not happened.
Another reason, though, could be the spread of false and misleading information. In our survey, 69% said they had seen false or misleading information about Coronavirus and 52% about politics in the preceding week – both figures are considerably higher than the all-market average.
Social networks and messaging apps are widely used in Mexico for news – especially by lower educated groups. When it comes to spreading misinformation, people say they are most concerned about the role played by Facebook (28%), followed by messaging apps such as WhatsApp (26%), news websites (15%), search engines (7%), YouTube (6%), and Twitter (4%).
It was hoped that the election of López Obrador would see a reduction in violence against journalists, but things have not improved. In just a few days in 2020, three journalists were shot dead, taking the year’s tally to nine. At least 120 journalists have been killed since 2000.
The established media face audience polarisation, declining advertising revenue, and the need to respond to digital shifts in consumer habits. Digital-born competition has blossomed in the past decade as consumers have discovered a rich variety of content offers and formats. UnoTV, part of Carlos Slim's América Móvil, which began life by sending news via SMS and grew into an influential news website, is perhaps the most successful. Nevertheless, traditional TV and radio are still the most popular media overall and receive the most advertising revenue. Traditional press continue to play an important role.
Many news outlets launched dedicated editorial sections and even webinars to cover the pandemic. Most were offered for free, and even the websites of traditional newspapers such as El Economista and El Financiero lowered their paywalls. The news industry was not included in the government’s financial support to businesses facing the impact of COVID-19, one element of which was a further decline in advertising.
The virus has not derailed the president. An undersecretary responsible for COVID prevention faced criticism when he said that, if the president had been a carrier of the virus, he could not infect more people because of his moral strength. For his part, the president said he would ‘put on a mask when there is no corruption’.
María Elena Gutiérrez-Renteria
Online and social media remain the most popular sources of news in Mexico with our predominantly urban sample. TV and radio remain important to reach the millions of people who are not online. The majority of internet news access is now via smartphones (79%) rather than computers or tablets.
Pay for online news
Share news via social, messaging or email
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in search
Trust in news on social media
Trust in the news is low by international standards, partly due to repeated attacks from the president. International broadcaster CNN is the most trusted brand in our survey. But two of the most popular domestic television news channels, TV Azteca and Televisa news, are least trusted – reflecting polarised attitudes to much of the media.