The Invisible Tyranny Of The Mexican Media

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The Invisible Tyranny of the Mexican Media: Tlatelolco and Beyond
Peter Watt, University of Sheffield
‘Via political propaganda we can conceive of a world dominated by an Invisible Tyranny which adopts the form of a democratic government’1. Those are the words of an internal document of the Mexican government produced under the government of President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and Secretary of theInterior, Luis Echeverría Álvarez (1964-1970).
This article examines media reactions to the notorious attack against protestors at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco in Mexico City in 1968 and their role during the years of political repression which followed, now known as the guerra sucia, or dirty war. I attempt to explain why the media often dismissed the student movement, which hadburgeoned throughout the summer of that year, and minimised the role of the authorities in their attacks against protestors and examine how the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) under Díaz Ordaz and Echeverría managed to manipulate what made it into print.2 An appraisal of the 1968 movement in Mexico should surely look at the role of the media, for without their silence and complicity, it ispossible that public outcry over the torture, incarceration, extrajudicial execution and disappearance of political dissidents could have exposed the abuses of Díaz Ordaz and Echeverría’s government. Yet this has been overlooked by those who have researched the topic, despite Diaz Ordaz and Echeverría’s close relationship with the media.3
In the latter half of the sixties control of informationand political propaganda became a prime concern of Mexico’s PRI regime and propaganda and manipulation of the media would become a key component of PRI rule. A ‘perfect dictatorship’ was how Mario Vargas Llosa aptly described the Mexican political system.

October 2 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of the massacre of peaceful protestors in the Tlatelolco housing project in Mexico City and thebeginning of Mexico’s secret Dirty War against the Left. Those campaigning for justice have long regarded Echeverría as the principal living instigator of the attack. Yet in July 2007 he was exonerated by a Mexican tribunal for the charge of genocide.
At the October 2 protest in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, armed government troops (granaderos), paramilitaries (La Brigada Blanca) and police movedinto the square. Tanks surrounded the plaza. Helicopters flew overhead. Towards the end of the afternoon, just as the crowd was to break up, two green flares were launched from one of the helicopters, a signal which initiated shots from snipers, granaderos and police. The night of terror, which left hundreds dead in the plaza and thousands more injured and incarcerated, is an infamous date inmodern Mexican history. The massacre was the government’s response to a summer of unparalleled popular activism and protest, demanding an end to political repression and the freeing of political prisoners and came just before Mexico was to host the 1968 Olympics. The violent response was unmatched and signalled the beginning of Mexico’s guerra sucia against political opponents.

Why did themainstream media side with the PRI in 1968? Given that the Mexican media in theory enjoyed freedom of expression, how was it possible to keep the murder and disappearances of political dissidents secret? How did the PRI maintain a compliant press with an apparent absence of formal mechanisms of control? The question of media adherence to a particular doctrine and ideology is not only relevant andimportant to Mexico; its bearing applies to other countries in which the media claim to be free, but nonetheless frequently side with the powerful. A group of Soviets accustomed to Pravda and state propaganda once posed the question on a visit to the United States; in the free world, they thought, at least the media should be free. They concluded otherwise. ‘In our country’, they noted, ‘to get that...
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