Mexico's open television remains despite private offerings

Given the widespread impact of television, strong self-regulatory institutions are essential. There is more pressure on public television to produce excellent programming.

Mexico's open television remains despite private offerings
Open television maintains its presence in Mexico in the face of private offerings. Photo by Nabil Saleh / Unsplash

Even though pay television, like Netflix, Disney, or Amazon, is becoming more popular, broadcast television is still the most important and widely watched media in the country, especially among children. This is why the most watched shows in Mexico are telenovelas, news programs, and so-called unitarios (one-hour series broadcast weekly).

"When we talk about World Television Day, being such an influential media, it is still mandatory to have effective self-regulatory bodies for television stations; audiences must know their right to receive quality content that respects human rights," says the host of the program Media 20.1, which TVUNAM broadcasts, Gabriel Sosa Plata.

Public broadcasting is a crucial way to promote diversity and plurality of content and, in a way, to fight back against commercial broadcasting, which, in my opinion, continues to show content in a very irresponsible way in some cases. The problem is that since the rules for classifying programs have changed, kids are watching things that aren't appropriate for their age.

In the same way, the time slot for broadcasting content for teens and adults has grown, while protections for children have shrunk. So, starting at 4 p.m., kids are exposed to shows that aren't right for their age, and as night falls, more shows don't follow the child's best interests.

"There continues to be the transmission, on commercial television, of discriminatory content, particularly towards the LGBTTTIQ+ community, and there continues to be an insistence on content that underestimates the country's indigenous community, which does little to extol their work and the importance of these cultures to our national identity. At the same time, people with disabilities continue to have a scarce presence, it is always on a paternalistic side and some practices should be corrected", emphasizes the journalist.

Television in Mexico is a great industry

World Television Day is celebrated on November 21 at the initiative of the United Nations, which in February 1997 proclaimed it in memory of the first World Television Forum, in which it was stressed that information must be at the service of humanity, by the principles of freedom of information, as well as those of independence, pluralism, and diversity of the media.

The origins of Mexican television date back to 1933-1934, when the engineer Guillermo González Camarena began his experiments in the field, with equipment he built to later test color transmissions in 1939, a system he patented a year later in Mexico, and 1942 in the United States; he called it Trichromatic because it was based on the colors green, red and blue.

In 1941, the National Chamber of the Broadcasting Industry was formed. From 1944 to 1949, the Mexican government received applications for the commercial concession of television channels from businessmen. This means of entertainment began operations in the 1950s, mainly financed by owners of broadcasting networks, and achieved great development as domestic receivers multiplied. From that moment on, television was officially incorporated into this organization.

Currently, in Mexico, according to the National Survey on Availability and Use of Information Technologies in Households (ENDUTIH) 2021, prepared by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography and the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT), 33.4 million households have at least one television set, which represented 91.2 percent of the total number of households.

Additionally, according to the IFT's National Survey of Audiovisual Content Consumption 2020-2021, 54 percent of Mexican households have only an open television signal; people reported that of the time dedicated to this medium, 64 percent watched the news, 45 percent watched movies and 20 percent watched cartoons. The most watched channels were: La Estrellas, Canal 5, and Azteca 7; 56 percent of these users argued that price was the main reason for contracting a pay-TV service.

Forty-six percent of the audiences had at least one pay TV system, although 68 percent of users stated that they also consumed free-to-air channels. In addition, 56 percent of those who had this service said that the main reason for contracting the service was to have more options.

Regarding other pay platforms, YouTube is used by 79 percent of people who consume content online, followed by Netflix (44 percent), Facebook (17 percent), Prime Video (nine percent) Disney+ (seven percent), and TikTok (four percent); likewise, 51 percent of those who watch content online pay a periodic subscription, while 86 percent use free access pages.

A new way to produce television in Mexico

Public media are essential if what is sought is the transformation of the country. Now that we are in such a stage of change, it is necessary to strengthen them. It is essential to refer to the transcendence of public media in society and to grant them whatever is possible for them to carry out their work in a better way.

An example of this is the university television station that offers content with great social responsibility, which seeks to show the cultural plurality of Mexico, to serve different types of audiences: young people, children, the LGBTTTIQ+ community, senior citizens, indigenous peoples and communities, etc.

An example of this commitment was the work done by TVUNAM during the most critical period of the pandemic when it adapted to a new way of producing television and, at the same time, took advantage of the great knowledge generated by the National University to transmit high-quality content, with simple language and great journalistic responsibility.

Public television has a double responsibility because it lives on society's resources and this gives it a greater commitment regarding the quality of the content. Therefore, they must also have effective self-regulation mechanisms, with audience ombudsmen, codes of ethics, and citizen councils, all of these mechanisms established by law.

For audiences to have the tools to critically observe the contents of the media, UNESCO promotes the so-called "information literacy"; that is, they should know who the issuers are, the interests of the companies or platforms, learn to identify fake news, or discriminatory contents and not reproduce them.