During one of his recent daily press conferences, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) mentioned me among those Mexican columnists who allegedly devote ourselves to write op-eds “against” him. His claim lead me to wonder about the role of the press in a democratic society.
In 1943, a group of US thinkers, scholars and policymakers held the first meeting of the Hutchins Commission which sought to explore the role of the media in the US. During many years, the Commission tried to answer three questions: What kind of society do we want? What do we have? How can the press…be used to reach our goal? After hundreds of interviews and dozens of meetings among very intelligent people, the group published a report in 1947 concluding that: “civilized society lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore it must make sure that as many as possible of the ideas which its members have are available for its examination”. The Hutchins Commission also concluded: “the press is the primary conduit through which people engage with the ideas they need to function as democratic citizens… it must be both protected and scrutinized”. According to them the press should give “a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s events” and discuss “all the important viewpoints and interests in the society”. The Commission also highlighted the importance of “raising the professional level of journalism, and of encouraging different media to question each other.” The group stressed the relevance of protecting the flow of potentially harmful ideas, because they can prove valuable.
The findings of the Hutchins Commission fit the current situation of Mexico “like a glove” (a phrase that President AMLO has used to refer to the Covid-19 pandemic effects on Mexico). Let’s ask ourselves the same question: What kind of society do we aspire to be? This is all happening when we are experiencing one of the most disruptive moments in humankind’s history. Isn’t it the right time to bring all ideas to the table including those that make us uncomfortable?
Perhaps there has never been a time when it made less sense to embrace stubborn and uncompromising positions. If we can state something, without fear of being wrong, it is that the world has changed in a matter of months far beyond what we ever thought possible. Isn’t it the right time when we should sit down to assess if we are doing things well, or if there are better policy alternatives?
Killing the brainstorming of ideas, by disqualifying in advance those who are more prone to criticize us, guarantees that the mistakes we make will be even more destructive. No one will prevent us from doubling down on mistakes or present us with better options.
Today, we can we can only be certain of one thing: uncertainty. Just think about the consequences for Mexico. Around 12 million middle-class Mexicans will join the poor. Mexico has probably lost more than 200,000 lives due to Covid-19. Despite the promise of not incurring in more debt, the current government’s indebtedness has grown more than during the six years of the Peña Nieto administration and President AMLO has not even noticed. Mexico’s fate will be radically different if Joe Biden wins the White House than with a Donald Trump’s reelection (upon which President AMLO clumsily bet on). Strong adjustments in the world economy will come. Also, all energy experts say that the pandemic will accelerate the transition to clean energy, which implies that oil has its days numbered, and that only the most efficient producers in the world will survive. Meanwhile, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, is the epitome of inefficiency.
Don’t you think Mr. President that in this kind of environment it is better to listen to those who do not agree with you than to those who do? Let us not forget that the your government spent the equivalent of US $5.7 million in advertising in the friendly La Jornada newspaper. Could it be that La Jornada’s coverage of the your administration has so friendly just because it is a sound business?
Mr. President: let’s talk, let’s debate. Listen to those who, without ulterior motives, think differently from you. Kick out the sycophants from the presidential press conferences, they do a lot of damage to your government, Mexican society and our democracy. Why don’t you invite us columnists you don’t agree with to respectfully ask you tough questions? For now, the only thing I can promise you is that I will continue calling things as I see them. My commentary is not “against you” but against the serious mistakes I believe you are making. I promise to acknowledge things if you get them right. I’ve done it before.
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv