A choppy clandestine video that surfaced Monday is likely to reinforce the widespread impression that the country’s drug cartels have gained a solid foothold in the Mexican news media.
The video, displayed on the website of the MVS radio network, shows two prominent journalists in the troubled state of Michoacan meeting with the fugitive leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel, Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, and holding an animated friendly discussion with him. At the end, they accept a pile of bills.
One of the journalists, Eliseo Caballero Ramirez, was until midday the correspondent in Michoacan for the powerful Televisa network, the biggest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world.
Caballero told MVS radio host Carmen Aristegui that he was forced to attend the meeting with “La Tuta” against his will, an argument that a parade of political figures also have made after videos of their meetings with him have leaked to the public.
But the images of Caballero and another journalist, Jose Luis Diaz, accepting payoffs, then pleading for more, was too much for Televisa, which fired Caballero.
“Our audience can rest assured that there is no place in this organization for those who violate the trust and hurt the credibility that the public bestows on Televisa News every day,” a statement from the network said.
The video lasts about 25 minutes, and it is unclear when it was made. The two journalists are seated inside a sparsely furnished room. Across the table from them is Gomez, who wears a trademark blue baseball cap. Through much of the video, which appears to have been heavily edited and whose audio is often poor, the journalists offer Gomez tips on improving the image of the Knights Templar.
President Enrique Pena Nieto deployed troops to Michoacan early this year to regain control from the Knights Templar, considered one of Mexico’s biggest crime groups, with a niche in the manufacture of tons of methamphetamine. Gomez has eluded capture despite the presence of thousands of troops and federal police.
After Gomez complains in the video that he was losing a public relations battle with armed civilian militias fighting his group, Caballero responds: “I think you need a press strategy. . . . And to avoid them gaining more attention, send out messages, send email, send photos, send out whatever.”
Gomez responds that his group has been providing videos to the public.
“Who do you think is uploading everything? We are,” Gomez says.
The other journalist in the video, Jose Luis Diaz, owns the Esquema news agency in Michoacan, which feeds reports to domestic and global news outlets and maintains a web portal with a strong focus on crime news.
The conversation rolls around to an interview that Gomez gave to the MundoFox network, aired in Spanish last December in the United States. Caballero notes that the MundoFox correspondent was staying in his home.
MundoFox is a joint operation between the Colombian media giant RCN and a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, the holding company for Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast and entertainment properties after the breakup of the News Corp. The company sent a statement to MVS, which said it had not been aware that anyone helping arrange the Gomez interview had received payment from the crime group.
“If this is the case, it is disheartening to learn how the interview with La Tuta was secured. Noticias MundoFox had no knowledge of any payments being made to, or received by, anyone in conjunction with the interview,” the statement said. “Had we even suspected that payments were involved, there is no way the interview would have taken place or aired.”
At the end of the tape, Gomez splashes down a number of bills in front of each journalist. Diaz is heard to say: “Let me ask you this with all respect, give us a truck to get around in.” Caballero chimes in: “We need to buy cameras. Each one costs $6,000.”
Gomez brushes them off with some profanity, and they all get up.
At least half a dozen videos have been leaked of clandestine meetings between Gomez and a series of politicians, including the son of former Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo, the state’s former public security chief, and the mayors of the port of Lazaro Cardenas and the towns of Patzcuaro and Huetamo. A number of those figures have been detained while a criminal probe unfolds.
It did not mark Televisa’s first brush with scandal involving drug trafficking.
Police halted six vans emblazoned with the Televisa logo near the Nicaraguan border with Honduras in August 2012 and arrested 18 Mexicans after seizing some $9 million in cash hidden in the vehicles. The Mexicans were later given jail terms for money laundering, although the majority were sent to complete the jail terms in their home country.
Prosecutors in Nicaragua failed to prove the involvement of Televisa executives, and the network categorically denied that the vans belonged to the conglomerate. Yet an explanation of how Televisa documents came to be found in the vans and why they were registered in the company’s name has yet to emerge.