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Mexico The Church
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Although there has been conflict between church and state in Mexico since the country's independence, more than 90 percent of the population remains Roman Catholic, according to 1990 census estimates. The state feud with the Roman Catholic Church is reflected in the 1917 constitution, which imposes many restrictions on the influence and privileges of the clergy in Mexico. The early drafts of the 1917 constitution banned public religious ceremonies, the establishment of monastic orders, and property ownership by the Roman Catholic Church, and forbade the clergy from participating in elections. All church buildings, according to law, were considered national property, and church ministers had to be Mexican nationals. The law also prohibited criticism of public law and institutions, both public and private, by members of the clergy.

    Far from bring a traditional conservative force, however, the Roman Catholic Church has been a strong advocate for social and political change. In the late 1980s, for example, the clergy were active in the northern states, condemning electoral fraud to the extent of threatening to cease celebrating masses unless there were a recount of the vote. The Roman Catholic Church was also instrumental throughout the 1980s in demanding recognition of its legal status and electoral participation for the clergy. Despite the traditional view of the Roman Catholic Church as representative or supporter of the elites, the Mexican Roman Catholic Church has emerged during the last decades as the defender of social justice, and the more progressive clergy have worked closely with underprivileged sectors to increase economic and social reform.

    The Salinas administration changed dramatically the relations between church and state in Mexico (see Church-State Relations, ch. 2). During the fall of 1991, Salinas's government took the first steps toward lifting some restrictions on church activities and introduced a reform proposal to end constitutional limits on the church. The new law, approved by the Congress in December 1991 and promulgated in January 1992, amended the constitution of 1917. Under the new law, the Roman Catholic Church is formally recognized by the state, the clergy are allowed to vote, the possession of property by churches is legal, and religion may be taught in private schools. Mexico also established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, relations that had been broken in 1867. State and church, nevertheless, remain separate, and church buildings remain state property.

    Protestant groups in Mexico have tended to support the PRI, in light of the party's broad appeal. The political alternatives are not viable options for Mexican Protestants because the opposition on the right, the PAN, openly represents Roman Catholicism and groups on the left exclude religion from their political goals. Toward the latter part of the twentieth century, the participation of Protestant groups in Mexican politics increased as Protestants supported efforts aimed at political change.

    Given the country's anticlerical history, it is highly unlikely that the Roman Catholic Church will assume a direct role in Mexican politics in the near future. However, the church's traditional commitment to social justice and economic development, along with the government redefinition of its institutional responsibilities, provides the Roman Catholic Church with a strong voice on future political issues.

    The Media

    Based on the number of newspapers, publishers, radio stations, and television networks in the country, Mexico is considered the media power center of Spanish-speaking Latin America. Mexico's mainstream newspapers and periodicals range in political ideology and independence from the official government newspaper El Nacional to the left-wing independent El Proceso . Although the press was for many years generally pro-establishment and supportive of the PRI, it diversified during the 1980s to reflect a wider spectrum of opinion. In early 1994, the government postponed its stated plans to sell El Nacional to private owners but declared that the newspaper would no longer receive public funding.

    The constitution of 1917 explicitly guarantees freedom of the press. Article 7 forbids prior censorship, and an amendment to Article 6 adopted in 1977 declares that "the right of information will be guaranteed by the state." However, these guarantees are highly qualified in practice. The Press Law of 1917, for instance, restricts the press on matters of personal privacy, morality, and public health. Many other regulations govern the news media. The 1960 Law on Radio and Television, for instance, forbids the broadcast of material deemed offensive to national heroes.

    Although nominally independent, the news media are subject to a variety of mainly indirect economic and political pressures from the government. The Secretariat of Communi-cations and Transport supervises the news media, granting publishing and broadcast licenses and ensuring adherence to the media laws. Successive PRI governments have influenced the news media by paying individual journalists for favorable coverage, by restricting access to newsprint and ink (the state monopolizes the production of both, although this control was somewhat reduced under President Salinas), by withholding information from critical journalists, and especially by granting or withholding government advertising, an important source of revenue for the press. Many newspapers accept government payments for the insertion of official announcements disguised as editorials. Occasionally, the government provides indirect financial inducements to particular journalists (for example, by offering them part of the payment for official advertising run by their newspapers). Some journalists and opposition political parties have accused the government of trying to conceal the extent of official subsidies to journalists by redirecting payoffs through the PRI's Office of Information.

    Government tolerance of press freedoms varies according to the sensitivities of the president in office. Traditionally, the media avoid direct criticism of an incumbent president. On sensitive issues affecting the government, the press provides only minimal coverage. Among the many unwritten rules is one that says that journalists are expected to respect the image of the president and other high-level government officials.

    In essence, government policies may be criticized, but elected individuals must not be ridiculed. Since the early 1980s, the trend toward a more open political debate has brought greater tolerance of criticism in the media. Some argue that this tolerance, which has occurred faster than the increasing democratization of the political system, has definitively contributed to increasing public awareness of the need for changes within the Mexican political system.

    Television is highly biased toward the official party, as illustrated by the open support the Televisa network gives to the government. Televisa is part of Mexican Telesystem (Telesistema Mexicano), considered the biggest communications conglomerate in the developing world, as well as one of the world's major transnational media empires. Televisa's political and economic influence in Mexico is extensive. Aside from the ownership of television and radio stations, it has significant interests in newsprint and publishing, record production, home videos, cinemas, advertising and marketing, real estate, tourism, sports, and the food processing and transport industries.

    Mexico City has fifteen newspapers; its dailies account for more than 50 percent of the national circulation. In 1994 there were eight newspapers in Mexico City with a daily circulation of more than 100,000 issues: Esto (450,000), La Prensa (300,000), Novedades (240,000), Ovaciones (220,000), El Heraldo de México (209,600), Excélsior (200,000), El Financiero (135,000), and El Universal (122,000). Excélsior is the most prestigious national daily and one of the most prominent newspapers in Latin America, known for its breadth of coverage, analytical style, and relative independence. The oldest of the traditional newspapers is El Universal , closely associated with the government throughout the 1970s, but currently known for its independence in reporting. El Nacional is the official newspaper of the federal government. The largest newspaper group is the Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), which owns some ninety newspapers throughout the country. The second largest publishing group is Novedades Editores, which is part of the Telesistema Mexicano conglomerate. Some of the leading daily newspapers, such as Excélsior and La Prensa , are run as cooperatives.

    There are five national news agencies: Notimex, Infomex, Noti-Acción, Notipress, and Agencia Mexicana de Información. Infomex is the largest, with almost 100 offices throughout the country and some twenty foreign correspondents. All leading international agencies have bureaus in Mexico City.

    National broadcasting stations are divided into commercial and cultural networks. All commercial stations are financed by advertising (both public and private) but must provide 12 percent of broadcasting time for government use. All cultural stations are operated by government agencies or by educational institutions. Media analysts expect that the economic policies pursued by the Salinas and Zedillo administrations will have a major impact on the media by further reducing state intervention and promoting the concentration of private ownership.

    Data as of June 1996

    NOTE: The information regarding Mexico on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Mexico The Church information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Mexico The Church should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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