Mexican broadcasters curtail tabloid TV crime shows

Violent programming targeted by president

July 12, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY -- Police-shooters, baby-stealers, wife-beaters and thugs of every stripe brandish pistols, knives and, in the case of one cross-dressing rapist, a tube of pink lipstick.

Such are the unlikely stars of "Duro y Directo" ("Tough and Direct"), the latest in a series of Mexican television tabloids that have become hits through their gritty coverage of this country's crime crisis.

But as the shows' popularity has grown, so has the controversy surrounding them. Next week, Mexico's top broadcaster will scrap "Duro y Directo" after an appeal from President Ernesto Zedillo. Other true-crime shows have suffered the same fate.

The cancellation demonstrates that concern about violence in the media has spread well beyond the United States.

But critics maintain that blocking such violent images can censor critical opinions and important information.

"Viewers saw this show as a window onto reality," Alexis Nunez, the producer of "Duro y Directo," said in an interview. "This was a place where you could scream your desperation and point to those who cause the problems that every Mexican experiences."

Tabloid television burst onto the scene in Mexico in 1995 when an upstart network, TV Azteca, sought to grab ratings from Televisa, which had enjoyed a near-monopoly for decades.

Televisa was famous for its fairy-tale soap operas and cautious, pro-government newscasts. Azteca fought back by portraying the soaring crime that was devastating Mexico City. Soon, both networks featured wildly popular blood-and-guts shows.

Raul Trejo, a media analyst, noted that the tabloid shows' reporters do little investigation or analysis of crime. But they have marked a new chapter in Mexican television by providing a forum for victims of crime, many of them poor and ignored by the media.

If audiences loved the programs, however, government officials, some intellectuals and business executives condemned them.

Zedillo appealed to television executives in late 1997 to tone down violence, saying the crime programs "seem to exalt and encourage it." Televisa and TV Azteca promptly canceled their tabloid shows.

But similar programs soon appeared.

Televisa decided to scrap "Duro y Directo" only after Zedillo made another public appeal last month against violent programs.

Pub Date: 7/12/99

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