All right. So I know the politics of a country thousands of miles away might not be so interesting as this week’s Euro tantrum or Jeremy Clarkson’s most recent politically incorrect statement, but as journalists we should know a little bit about everywhere. So here go my two cents about the current state of digital media in Mexico. But first a little bit of history.
Mexico’s love-hate relationship with the Internet goes back to 1986, when two companies were disputing the rights to produce and sell fibre optic technology. A couple hundred legislative meetings and bureaucratic processes later the Internet was a luxury than only a few universities and government agencies were allowed to enjoy.
But this wouldn’t stay a small thing for long. Like everywhere else on the globe the Internet exploded and by 1990 46 new fibre optic connections were created only between July and September. By 1991, Mexico’s previously state owned biggest phone provider TELMEX (Telefonos Mexicanos or Mexican Telephones) began to install Internet wiring in urban domestic settings. This network had a whopping capacity of 64 kilobytes per second…talk about progress and technology.
The years went by and the Internet became more and more popular. Little “cyber-cafes” or cyber coffee shops popped out of nowhere and would charge by the minute to use their marvellous devices. By 2007 Mexico was No.10 in the world for number of Internet users. In this 2012, the year the world will allegedly end (not), has projected 43 million internet users. That is 37.4% of Mexicans with access to and regular use of the Internet. In a country were 93.3% of the population own and constantly watch a TV, that doesn’t seem high enough to me.
But there is still hope. A massive 53% of Internet users are between the age of 12 and 24. The percentage goes up to 70 if you include people until 34 years of age. Mexico’s youth is grabbing the Internet crazed bulls by the horns and is ready to defeat it.
You might probably be wondering why this is relevant. Well, because in the part of the world I like to call home 2012 is election year, just like in the US. AS always the media plays an important role in portraying political candidates and their ideas.
Mexico’s population does not have a big tradition for political involvement and citizen action. Rather they take what the “telly” feeds them and vote for whoever promised more. In worse scenarios electoral votes are bought by as low a rate as $50 pesos (£2.4) and a sandwich. But once again, there’s still hope. The newly started race for the presidency is being fought, not only on TV screens but also on the Internet. This means that many more internet savvy youngsters within voting age (18 years) will be able to watch, read and research the presidential proposals. The war for the Mexican executive is being disputed in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with harsh and critical comments to both the candidates and their parties.
This comically illustrated story by one of Mexico´s biggest newspapers, Milenio shows the rate at which politics has gone digital.
In twitter and Facebook, right wing conservative PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto leads the race. Peña Nieto’s twitter account has over 320,000 followers and his Facebook page tops a million 350 thousand likes. Peña Nieto has been called (even by the BBC, Mexico´s most handsome politician). One would thing that such a pretty face would rule in YouTube as well, a primarily visual medium. But the YouTube medal goes to left wing radical socialist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. His “inspiring” videos pull at the heartstrings of every taco vendor, every maid, every builder, cleaner, teacher, plumber. HE lost the presidency in 2006, but doesn’t seem to want to lose again. The fight has begun
Once again, why is this important? Because regardless of the corruption (that won’t stop any time soon) and the intense propaganda fight that characterizes Mexican politics, it is now brought to an arena that allows for discussion. I am a firm believer of the Internet as a tool for freedom and reform. I know the Arab Spring wasn’t all twitter and Facebook. The changes the Middle East saw might not be all they needed or even different at all, but the fact is that information and connectivity prompted people to act.
Mexico is drowning in drug related violence, corruption and misinformation as legacy from a strong government that for 70 years controlled the nation´s media. Now information is viral, free, everywhere, accessible, taggable, twittable, and more importantly discussable. All of us with our hearts back in Mexico can do nothing but repeat this phrase like a mantra: there’s still hope, there’s still hope, there’s still hope.