Mexican NGOs Warn Peña Nieto’s PR Spending Is “Out of Control”

 President Enrique Peña Nieto is outspending his predecessors on PR by a significant margin. (Diego Mateos/Aristegui Noticias)
According to Article 19, President Enrique Peña Nieto is outspending his predecessors on public relations by a significant margin. (Diego Mateos/Aristegui Noticias)

EspañolWhen it comes to spending on public relations, the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is breaking records.

According to a report published on August 26 by watchdog NGOs Article 19 and Fundar Center for Analysis and Research, Peña Nieto spent an unprecedented MEX$14.6 billion on official government advertising in just his first two years in office, vastly exceeding the allotted budget.

“These excesses have become constant, and this reflects an absence of planning, a lack of control, and zero oversight,” the report states.

The six-chapter document analyzes and evaluates the Mexican government’s spending on advertising, both at the state and federal level, as well as its effectiveness.

Excessive Spending

The report finds that in 2013, the federal government exceeded its advertising budget of MEX$5.5 billion by 48.8 percent.

As part of the Alliance for Open Government, Mexico’s Ministry of Public Administration has reported the federal government’s monthly expenses on official advertising since 2012. The data includes items such as the budget line used, the contract type, the name of the ad agency, and the acquisition date, among other details.

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Although the Social Communication Spending System (COMSOC) releases all the information recorded by state agencies within 10 calendar days following the end of each month, the report claims the system suffers from significant delays.

While preliminary figures showed $4.5 billion spent on official advertising in 2013, the report demonstrates that the Mexican federal government actually spent $7.6 billion — a difference of 69.7 percent.

When compared to the total advertising expenditures in the first years of previous administrations, Peña Nieto spent 35 percent more than Felipe Calderón in 2007, and more than double what Vicente Fox spent in 2001. The report notes that even when accounting for inflation, Peña Nieto’s spending still surpassed that of his predecessors.

During his first two years in office, Peña Nieto spent 35 percent and 104 percent more in advertising than Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox, respectively.
During his first two years in office, Peña Nieto spent 35 percent and 104 percent more in advertising than Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox, respectively. (Artículo 19)

In 2014, the Mexican federal government once again exceeded its advertising budget, this time spending 26 percent more than the allotted $5.2 billion. Preliminary figures in this case showed $3.5 billion in official advertising, but the final tally came in at $7 billion.

The report notes that the federal government allocated most of its funds to television advertising (30 percent) in 2014. The remaining funds went to communication-service providers (25 percent), radio stations (20 percent), print media (17 percent), webcasting (5 percent), and cinema (2 percent).

As for the media companies that provided the government’s adverts, Grupo Televisa led the pack, taking in 17.30 percent of the state’s spending, followed by Azteca Studios (7.93 percent), Estudios Churubusco (3.6 percent), Formula Group (3.25 percent), and the Mexican Editorial Organization (3.16 percent).

Of the 27 federal entities that released information on their original advertising budget and real expenses, 15 spent more than budgeted in 2013. Nine entities spent less than budgeted, while only three reported spending the same amount they originally had approved.

Overall, the 15 entities that surpassed their original budgets did so by 1.4 percent, or $1.6 billion more than the initial budget. Seven entities, however, spent more than twice their budgets (Chihuahua, Morelos, Campeche, Yucatán, Mexico City, Zacatecas, and Colima).

NGOs Call for Regulation

During a presentation of their report in Durango, México, Article 19 and Fundar called for the Mexican Congress to pass legislation establishing clear, objective, and transparent criteria to regulate government advertising.

Ana Cristina Ruelas, with Article 19’s Access to Information Program, warned that unless the legal framework is changed, freedom of expression will remain under threat in the country.

Joel Salas, commissioner of the National Institute of Transparency and Access to Information (INAI), said that once reforms are enacted in May 2016, the destination of all public resources shall be reported without exception.

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