MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president said Friday he will shut down Notimex, a national news agency that has been locked in a years-long strike against the woman he appointed to run it.
Founded in 1968, Notimex was generally a service that mainly sent news reports from Mexico’s 32 states, many of which weren’t covered much by Mexico’s national newspapers, which are almost all based in Mexico City.
Analysts said it is the latest chapter in an effort by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to control public government media, scientific or cultural bodies.
López Obrador said Friday that there is no longer a need for Notimex, saying his carefully orchestrated morning news briefings are enough to keep the country informed.
“We do not need a government news agency anymore. That was from the era of press statements,” López Obrador said. “It is not something that we need as a government. We have the mañanera” — his daily news briefing.
The unionized workers at Notimex went on strike in 2020, arguing some members had been unfairly fired or harassed by Sanjuana Martínez, who was appointed by López Obrador to run the agency in 2019, soon after he took office. The two sides have made no progress in resolving the strike.
López Obrador said the agency will be closed after an agreement is reached to pay the striking workers severance payments.
Martínez said she completely agreed with the decision to shut down the 55-year-old news agency, which she claimed was ridden with corruption when she took over.
“I am totally in agreement” with the decision, Martínez said.
She added she agreed that the president’s morning news briefings — where pre-selected bloggers and reporters usually ask soft-ball questions, and sometimes openly state their loyalty to López Obrador — is enough to keep Mexicans informed.
“It is a successful phenomenon with high audience share that has allowed (the government) to respond to the press, which in general has opted for campaigns of slander and lies,” Martínez said.
López Obrador routinely lashes out at mainstream reporters, calling them corrupt lackeys of conservatives.
The Mexican Association for the Right to Information said there has been a disturbing trend by López Obrador’s government of turning publicly funded media outlets into a mouthpiece for his administration.
The coverage of a march by López Obrador’s supporters in November in Mexico City was one example the group cited.
Public television and radio stations — most of which had previously broadcast mainly cultural, scientific or education programs — quickly became politicized, giving promotional space to draw people to López Obrador’s march and broadcasting fawning coverage of it.
“The government is making a clearly partisan use of supposedly public media outlets that constitutes a flagrant violation of the Constitution,” the association said in a statement. “These are publicly funded electronic media that are meant to provide information without a slant in favor of the government.”
Jorge Bravo, the association’s president, noted that Notimex, like some other public media, had long had a reputation for being pro-government. Underfunded public media could have used more independence and professional standards, or better funding, Bravo said, but they have gotten none of that under López Obrador.
“But if before they were pro-government, now they are also propaganda outlets,” Bravo said.
It’s not just news media and regulatory agencies the president has dissolved, starved of funding or refused to approve appointments for in his effort to concentrate media coverage and decision-making in his own hands.
In 2021, his administration sought to lock up 31 academics, professors and scientists in the country’s harshest maximum security prison for receiving money from a government science fund. The researchers involved have denied the funds were illegal or misused.
As in the case of Martínez, López Obrador appointed a new director for the government science council, María Álvarez-Buylla, to shake up the body.
Álvarez-Buylla quickly drew dissent after she criticized researchers for presenting reports in English, despite the fact that is the common language in some technical fields.
She also has criticized “Western science” and “techno-science that makes knowledge merchandise,” while calling for ”collective processes of generating knowledge” more closely tied to social concerns.
“Western science has produced the most splashy, and perhaps most useless advances, like reaching the Moon,” Álvarez-Buylla said in 2020.