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Businessmen, Partisans and Oligarchs: Political Control, News Production Philosophies And Partisan Bias In Mexican Television News
Unformatted Document Text:  3 Elsewhere, we have addressed the emergence of independent publications and the creation of a print media that monitors government action. 2 In this article, we focus on the creation of an autonomous, pluralistic broadcast regime. In particular, we examine coverage of electoral alternatives on a medium that plays the greatest role in shaping public opinion and political outcomes in consolidated democracies: broadcast television. Although our quantitative analysis and case studies are drawn from Mexico, our conclusions should be relevant for a range of newly democratic countries. We argue that electoral competition and economic liberalization do not by themselves guarantee more politically plural news coverage of campaigns. Rather, the worldviews of station owners or state TV directors – the businessmen, partisans and oligarchs who make up today’s television elite in the developing world – determine how biased the news will remain as a new democracy consolidates. Their news decisions are based in part on instrumental calculations of how to profit economically or politically in a new macro-environment. But they are also influenced by authoritarian inertia and distinctive philosophies of news production. Thus, we argue, policy debates about state or private sector ownership miss the heart of the matter. For partisan bias to end, newsrooms must be controlled by people dedicated to political pluralism in the news, but those newsrooms can be constructed within either the state or the private sector just as they can both be captured by partisan interests. For stations located in the private sector, the political connections and business philosophy of the owner (be it an individual or a large family-owned corporation) matter most when explaining the level of partisan bias exhibited in a station. For state-owned television news stations, whether or not political authorities attempted to exploit the station politically matters most. Consequently, 2 Chappell Lawson, Building the Fourth Estate: Democratization and the Rise of a Free Press in Mexico (University of California Press, 2002); Sallie Hughes, Culture Clash in the Newsroom. Journalists, The Media and the

Authors: Hughes, Sallie. and Lawson, Chappell.
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3
Elsewhere, we have addressed the emergence of independent publications and the
creation of a print media that monitors government action.
2
In this article, we focus on the
creation of an autonomous, pluralistic broadcast regime. In particular, we examine coverage of
electoral alternatives on a medium that plays the greatest role in shaping public opinion and
political outcomes in consolidated democracies: broadcast television. Although our quantitative
analysis and case studies are drawn from Mexico, our conclusions should be relevant for a range
of newly democratic countries.
We argue that electoral competition and economic liberalization do not by themselves
guarantee more politically plural news coverage of campaigns. Rather, the worldviews of station
owners or state TV directors – the businessmen, partisans and oligarchs who make up today’s
television elite in the developing world – determine how biased the news will remain as a new
democracy consolidates. Their news decisions are based in part on instrumental calculations of
how to profit economically or politically in a new macro-environment. But they are also
influenced by authoritarian inertia and distinctive philosophies of news production.
Thus, we argue, policy debates about state or private sector ownership miss the heart of
the matter. For partisan bias to end, newsrooms must be controlled by people dedicated to
political pluralism in the news, but those newsrooms can be constructed within either the state or
the private sector just as they can both be captured by partisan interests. For stations located in
the private sector, the political connections and business philosophy of the owner (be it an
individual or a large family-owned corporation) matter most when explaining the level of
partisan bias exhibited in a station. For state-owned television news stations, whether or not
political authorities attempted to exploit the station politically matters most. Consequently,
2
Chappell Lawson, Building the Fourth Estate: Democratization and the Rise of a Free Press in Mexico (University
of California Press, 2002); Sallie Hughes, Culture Clash in the Newsroom. Journalists, The Media and the


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