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Mexico Moves to Curb Lapdog Image of Press

September 29, 1992

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The Mexican government has started breaking off its intimate - some say incestuous - relationship with the national press, which for decades has sung its praises in return for cash and favors.

The presidential press office recently announced that Mexican news media now must pay for the expenses of their reporters traveling abroad with President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

It is the first step in a campaign to end a system that has bred corruption and seriously harmed the media’s credibility.

″The journalist ends up writing not for society, but for his sponsors,″ said Rafael Cardona, director of Epoca magazine and a former government press officer. ″The press offices pay for publication of what they want and then they end up believing what is published.″

In recent years, as the Mexican press began to air some mild criticism of the government, some newspapers began refusing to accept government favors.

But the system - called ″embute,″ or ″stuffing″ - still is seen in many forms:

- Envelopes fat with cash are handed out directly by press officers to reporters who cover their agencies.

- Former press officers say it was not uncommon for reporters to get cars or apartments for writing what the government wanted.

- A reporter covering a government agency usually gets a cut of the advertising that the agency buys in his paper.

- Other benefits have included free telephones, meals, hotels, transportation and other expenses for those traveling with the president.

In 1980, when former President Jose Lopez Portillo went to the Mexican border to meet President-elect Ronald Reagan, reporters on the press plane were given envelopes filled with money for shopping.

The return flight was so filled with television sets, refrigerators and stereo gear that another plane had to be sent for to take back some of the journalists.

In Mexico City, the press plane pulled up to the presidential hangar, where trucks were waiting. There wasn’t a customs agent in sight.

″Favorites of the chief of state or of the press officer lived out their dreams during presidential visits,″ said columnist Hector Davalos in the newspaper Novedades. ″On the state’s tab they saw fulfilled wishes unattainable on their meager professional salaries.″

Presidential press spokesman Jose Carreno said the new measure would soon apply to domestic trips by the president and to government agencies.

Mexican newspapers publicly endorsed the government’s decision.

Editors said the measure, when applied to domestic trips, would reduce the number of ″ghost″ publications that live off government handouts.

Presidential information officer Pablo Hiriart was quoted as saying the measure ″ would benefit us all. The readers will know they are getting a product free of suspicion of propaganda contamination.″

″The Mexican press has to stop being a shameful political tool to become an instrument of pressure by society,″ Epoca’s Cardona said.

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