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Soto gives insight into Mexican media history

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by Gloria Diaz
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Why do we have to know about media in other countries?

Visiting Professor of Communications Jose Soto addressed this topic in his lecture of “Still Standing: Mexican Media Through the Years,” which was presented Wednesday by the University of La Verne Honors Program.

Before an audience of 20 in the Arts and Communications Building, Soto talked about the history of media in Mexico, and its role in everyday Mexican life.

He compared the media to a family. Each part of the media conglomerate is a member of a larger family structure, he said.

The grandmother is the newspaper, which is the oldest form of media. Grupo Reforma started as El Norte newspaper in 1922, and eventually expanded into a newspaper group that dominated a group of papers mostly in the northern states of Mexico. In the mid 1990s, Reforma decided to move into central Mexico, mainly Mexico City.

“Grupo Reforma is one of the most important newspapers in Mexico City,” Soto said.

Next in line is the grandfather: cinema. Soto described Mexican cinema as having three key characteristics which directly affect movie quality. The first was that money was only given to movies that provided quick box office returns.

“Commercially successful films are what Mexico needs,” Soto said.

The second characteristic is that only experienced directors get the chance to make movies. The third is the union for the movie industry’s closed door policy. The policy meant that anyone without previous experience in film could not join the union. To join the union you had to have experience with films.

He referred to radio as the uncle, as the most important provider of information to Mexican society. The aunt is television, which is dominated by two networks, Televisa and Azteca, he said.

Televisa started as a radio station by Emilio Azcarraga Vidaurreta, who passed it onto his son Emilio Azcarraga Milmo when he died. Milmo came up with the idea to have a television station. Before Televisa there were only three other channels for the viewing public. Station XHGC was owned by Gonzalez Camarena, who invented the color system that RCA uses. Channel 4 was owned by Ofarril, and channel 2 was owned by Milmo.

When Milmo died, he turned the station over to Emilio Azcarraga Gean. Televisa did not offer a wide range of programming because there was no other stations competing for viewers.

The need for another television viewing option rose, and the Azteca network was born in 1997. Before that the Mexican government owned stations for public access, but the cost to keep them going was too high so it auctioned them off in 1991. The stations were bought by Ricardo Salinas Pliego who owned Elektra Mexicana.

One issue Azteca faced was that novelas, Spanish soap operas, were taking on repetitive story lines that dealt with a poor woman marrying into a rich family.

“TV Azteca made the change from conventional subjects; now they are more current,” Soto said.

Soto has had firsthand experience with the Mexican television industry.

He worked at the Televisa network for one and a half years without pay, which he says is not uncommon. After that he moved onto the other competing network, Azteca.

In Mexico, the government plays a major role in the media.

“Television is conservative for its own sake,” Soto said. “The government takes care of it, and it takes care of the government.”

Soto also touched on the effects of the Internet on Mexican media.

The Internet is only available to upper middle class people in Mexico, so there is not much effect on it. The global village does not exist in Mexico, Soto said.

The students who attended seemed to enjoy the presentation.

“It was very interesting he has a lot of personal experience, so it was interesting to hear it from someone who knows first hand,” sophomore Kayte Heslet said.

“I like how he gave insight on the history, a lot of people don’t really find much importance in Mexican media,” sophomore Jennifer Romero said. “They don’t realize the history of everything that goes along with it and all of the political background behind everything.”

But back to the initial question: Why do we have to know about media in other countries?

Simply because “Mi familia se está convirtiendo en su familia (my family is becoming your family),” Soto said.

“We are very lucky because we have him on campus for a limited period of time,” said Andrea Labinger, Spanish professor.

“I thought it would be great to take advantage of the fact he is with us right now,” she said.

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