Friday, September 26, 2014

Cancun: A strange tale of media censorship by cloning

I have never heard of a case like this anywhere.

The weekly magazine and website Luces del Siglo (Lights of the Century) in the resort city of Cancun, Mexico, has seen its editions replaced by counterfeit versions with the contents twisted to favor the governor of the state.

The publisher, Norma Madero, said yesterday in an interview with El Universal newspaper, that this "cloning" of her publication has occurred 38 times in the past three years, six times to the printed edition on newsstands and 32 times to its online edition.

The magazine has consistently criticized Roberto Borge, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, which is home to the tourist centers Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Madero has accused Borge of being responsible for distributing phony copies of the magazine. The governor denies any knowledge of or involvement in the "cloning" of Luces del Siglo.

The press freedom organization Article 19 has come out in defense of Madero and Luces. Director Dario Ramirez said in a televised interview with Carmen Aristegui that he has been told by a human rights expert that this type of systematic cloning of contents has no precedent in Latin America or in the world.

In February, the cover of Luces showed a cartoon version of the governor wielding a huge mallet and  smashing his opponents -- politicians, people, and the press. The headline said, "Borge sows terror." In the cloned version, the mallet has the label "Justice" and the governor is said to "take a hard line against crime". You can compare the covers below.

At left in the original, the governor "sows terror". In the cloned version, the governor "takes a hard line against crime." From El Universal.
The cloned edition replaced the critical article of the original edition with one talking about the achievements of the governor.

Madero told me in an interview today that the "cloned" versions of the magazine with complimentary articles about the governor are being distributed free around the state in restaurants, government offices, and other locations.

Meanwhile, the official version of Luces del Siglo is no longer sold on newstands. It is sold only by subscription for delivery to homes and offices, Madero told me. (Disclosure: the magazine invited me to Cancun in March, where I gave a lecture and a workshop. The magazine paid my travel and lodging expenses.)

Falsification of the digital publication works this way, Madero told me: The cover of the PDF version of the magazine available to subscribers is altered to appear to be complimentary to the governor. Then this false cover, with none of the rest of the contents, is distributed on social networks and to email lists.

Animal Político, a digital publication, has reported that the Sept. 7 edition of Luces, which showed the governor at the wheel of a ship under the headline "Rudderless" (below right), was also replaced by a false version. The phony version showed the governor on the cover smiling under the headline "Three years of delivering results" (below left). The cover story of the authentic edition talked about the governor's supposedly tyrannical style. The phony version had an article that talked about his achievements and improvements.  

According to Aristegui Noticias, people posing as employees of Luces del Siglo distributed phony versions of the magazine at his annual address Sept. 9, a type of "state of the state" in the state capital of Chetumal.

The phony version at left. The actual edition at right.
Aristegui Noticias also reported that a federal judge in Quintana Roo has ordered the governor to "cease creating and distributing false covers and editions of the magazine and to provide a report in which he would clarify 'if the acts attributed to him are true or false'."

The governor was supposed to present the report to the court at a hearing yesterday, Sept. 25, but the hearing was postponed. A spokesman for the governor said that the court's order had never been received so no report was prepared.

So we will have to wait a while to hear the governor's response. In the meantime, a number of advertisers have left the magazine, Madero said, because they have received calls, supposedly from representatives of the governor or his allies, urging them to shift their advertising to other publications and offering them much cheaper rates.

The state has also made it difficult for the journalists at Luces to do their work by denying them access to events, press conferences, and public officials, Madero told me.

What is her problem with Borge? I asked. She said the editorial line of the publication for all of its 11 years has been to challenge the government in power, no matter which party. The magazine also has always come down against "environmental depradation and abuses."

Norma Madero took over the newspaper when her husband, the journalist Joaquin Paredes, died several years ago. She does not have a journalism background, but she does have the mentality of an investigative journalist: question authority.


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