In Mexico, TV broadcasters have to run political ads free of charge -- all to level the playing field. In this country, political messaging only has to be priced at the lowest commercial unit rate.
At least U.S. TV stations get some form of payment. And, in big political years -- like in 2008 -- they can get plenty more. Last year's total TV political revenue was upwards of $3 billion, all of which was key to somewhat offset the crumbling of the TV advertising market, pulled down by the severely depressed automotive industry.
It looks like Azteca, Mexico's No. 2 TV broadcaster, has had enough of the freebie thing. Azteca nixed running some 5,734 political spots in May in prime time, all of which got Mexico's Federal Electoral Commission angry enough to fine the network what amounts to $1.7 million -- the highest ever penalty levied against a media outlet in Mexico. (The commission was actually was looking for a bigger fine $4.7 million) Meanwhile, No. 1 station bigger Televisa was also fined to a lesser degree).
Perhaps Azteca was looking down the road, according to reports -- hoping to pay the penalty by selling more advertising in other dayparts.
In this country TV stations are licensed by the federal government -- hopefully serving some public good. That means some level of public affairs/news programming, kids/education programs, or other low-level requirements. All this allows private companies to own broadcast stations which have (up until recently) allowed them to reap hundreds of millions of dollars.
One wonders what would happen if U.S. political candidates (with some restrictions/qualifications) were allowed free advertising like those candidates in Mexico. In the best of circumstances, such a move would seem to offer up some positive and new public discourse -- perhaps establishing somewhat of a level playing field.
The worst: mass confusion, corruption, and abuse.