Mexico’s government denied pressuring media company MVS Comunicaciones to fire popular news anchor Carmen Aristegui in February 2011 and said the company took the decision on its own before rehiring her days later.
“There was never any pressure from the president’s office to fire her or to prevent her from returning to her news program,” federal government spokeswoman Alejandra Sota said in a press conference Wednesday.
Her remarks were in response to allegations that high-ranking officials, including Sota, threatened MVS with the loss of spectrum in a high-frequency band unless it fired Aristegui, the host of a popular radio news show and a harsh critic of President Felipe Calderon’s administration.
“Neither the Office of the Media and Communications Coordinator that I head, nor the Communications and Transportation Secretariat directly or indirectly requested the dismissal of the Noticias MVS anchor and that is apparent in all the communications” that the company’s CEO, Joaquin Vargas, disclosed Wednesday, Sota said.
On Wednesday morning, Vargas presented evidence of the alleged coercion, revealing e-mail exchanges and communications with Sota and former Labor Secretary Javier Lozano.
He showed one letter supposedly written by Sota that spells out the content of an apology letter Aristegui would need to sign after insisting on air that Calderon answer unsubstantiated rumors of a drinking problem.
Sota denied writing the letter and said she only made “observations” on a text that Vargas presented to her. She said the CEO was solely responsible for the content and the terms of the public apology prepared for Aristegui, who was fired after refusing to sign it.
“With respect to the statements by the CEO of MVS, we deny that the federal government tried to limit the journalist’s freedom of expression,” she said.
“The accusations leveled by (Vargas) are baseless and are aimed at contaminating a technical telecommunications decision related to the 2.5 (GHz) band,” the spokeswoman said.
Communications and Transportation Secretary Dionisio Perez Jacome on Aug. 8 announced the government’s decision to recover existing concessions in that band, citing underuse of the spectrum and its goal of expanding fourth-generation mobile broadband service by bringing in more participants.
The company hardest hit by the move was MVS, the owner of dozens of radio stations and pay TV channels and holder of 42 of the 68 concessions in the 2.5 GHz band.
Vargas slammed the decision as an act of revenge for MVS’s decision to rehire Aristegui and vowed to mount a court challenge.
He also said in a press conference last week in Mexico City that the decision not to renew expiring concessions and recover existing ones in that band was the result of pressure exerted by Mexico’s No. 1 TV broadcaster Televisa and “the manifest antipathy among some figures in the government toward MVS’ management.”
But Sota said Wednesday the root of the issue has nothing to do with freedom of expression but “solely and exclusively with the fact MVS did not want to pay Mexicans what the band costs: 27 billion pesos ($2.06 billion).”
MVS offered to pay no more than 11.16 billion pesos (some $859 million) to hold on to its spectrum in that band, prompting the government’s decision to begin the process of recovering it on grounds of underutilization.
At the same press conference, Perez Jacome said the government had spent “nearly six years” trying to make “good use” of the 2.5 GHz band.
“What we want is to provide Mexico greater competitiveness” and to make better use of spectrum for offering more broadband services, he added.
Meanwhile, the Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, has requested that the executive branch submit an urgent report explaining the reasons for the spectrum recovery.
The government’s announcement has “generated multiple interpretations and great uncertainty over the underlying reasons for taking this step, especially when there are just a few months remaining in the current administration,” lawmaker Jose Luis Jaime Correa said.