A secretive unit inside Mexico’s predominant television network set up and funded a campaign for Enrique Peña Nieto, who is the favourite to win Sunday’s presidential election, according to people familiar with the operation and documents seen by the Guardian. The new revelations of bias within Televisa, the world’s biggest Spanish-language broadcaster, challenge the company’s claim to be politically impartial as well as Peña Nieto’s insistence that he never had a special relationship with Televisa. The unit – known as “team Handcock”, in what sources say was a Televisa codename for the politician and his allies – commissioned videos promoting the candidate and his PRI party and rubbishing the party’s rivals in 2009. The documents suggest the team distributed the videos to thousands of email addresses, and pushed them on Facebook and YouTube, where some of them can still be seen. The nature of the relationship between Peña Nieto and Televisa has been a key issue in Sunday’s election since the development in May of a student movement focused on perceived media manipulation of public opinion in the candidate’s favour. Televisa refused to comment on the specifics of the documents but denied suggestions it had favoured the PRI, saying it had done political work for all the major parties.
The documents, which consist of scanned copies of signed contracts as well as other instructions and proposals, suggest that Televisa subsidiaries and named Televisa executives took part in the project, putting their employees and knowhow to work to the benefit of Peña Nieto in the buildup to crucial 2009 midterm congressional elections.
The material follows the publication by the Guardian three weeks ago of a cache of documents from 2005 that appeared to detail the network’s sale of favourable coverage to a number of politicians, including Peña Nieto. The documents also appeared to contain evidence of a smear campaign orchestrated from the company against Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who at the time was preparing his first presidential candidacy. López Obrador is currently Peña Nieto’s closest rival in the presidential race, though most polls put him more than 10 points behind the leader Televisa has dismissed these allegations as libellous, questioned the authenticity of the documents, and demanded an apology.