Mexicans love narcoseries and narconovelas — TV programs about drug traffickers and the lives they lead. But not all Mexicans are tuning in. Some people think the drug shows are just glorifying crime and violence, and contributing to the country's overall levels of insecurity. And they want it to stop.
Last week, Mexican media consumer advocacy group A Favor de lo Mejor (AFM) started a campaign to prevent narcoseries from airing on primetime television, as is stipulated by Mexican law. AFM published an open letter accusing local TV networks of planning to illegally broadcast narcoseries in primetime slots in a bid to increase viewership. AFM's letter urged the government to enforce the law.
The campaign, hashtagged as #NoaNarcoSeries (No to Narcoseries), quickly became a trending topic on Mexican Twitter as people squared off to attack and defend narco-themed TV.
AFM president Francisco González Garza, who's leading the charge against the primetime airing of such shows, says the seemingly frivolous fictional worlds of narcoseries have real life consequences in Mexico.
“Narcoseries show us drug traffickers that have apparently enviable lives, full of luxury, power and money,” he told Fusion. “And all of these descriptions make people— especially vulnerable populations— think that drug trafficking could be an option for them.”
Most popular narcoseries, including El señor de los cielos, Señora Acero and Rosario Tijeras, have a “D” rating in Mexico, which means they're considered suitable for viewers 21 and older, and therefore are restricted to airing on television between midnight and 6 a.m.
But according to some Mexican outlets, media conglomerate Televisión Azteca has plans to schedule the first season of its adaptation of the Colombian narconovela Rosario Tijeras at 9 p.m. in Mexico City, when it premiers in November. Fusion reached out to Televisión Azteca for comment, but did not receive a response.
AFM is also concerned that competition may drive media conglomerate Televisa to move the fifth season of its popular show El señor de los cielos to the 9 p.m. slot when it airs next March. Televisa told Fusion they have not finalized their broadcasting schedule for the next season of El señor de los cielos.
“These narcoseries make the networks a lot of money, and the commercial pressure on networks can be really powerful,” said González Garza. “That’s why we, the consumers of media, are saying ‘don’t even think about it’ to the networks. Because once someone does it, the force of competition will become even more powerful.”
Although there’s probably no way to prevent narcoseries from being viewed online at anytime of day or night, González Garza thinks that banning them from primetime television significantly curtails their influence on the wider public.
“Television broadcasts still come to 99% of the population, and because of its open nature, television is fundamentally different from other media platforms that have free access,” said González Garza. “It’s demonstrated that at primetime there are large audiences in front of the television, especially of young people and children.”
Even some actors who have appeared in narcoseries see the genre as potentially harmful, especially for children. Isi Rojano, who played “el Rombo” in the first season of El señor de los cielos, understands AFM’s criticisms of narcoseries and agrees that they shouldn’t be broadcast at primetime.
“Narcoseries show drug traffickers as superheroes, and if even adults idolize them, imagine what children think,” he told Fusion. “It’s one thing if adults want to look for the shows and watch them, but they shouldn’t be shown at 9 p.m. when children and young people are around the television.”
In Colombia, the birthplace of narcoseries, media content about drug trafficking was once heavily regulated by the government, but is now allowed to air at any time. González Garza said that one of AFM’s sister organizations in Colombia documented increases in crime when the government relaxed restrictions on narcoseries.
It's a logical cause and effect, he claims.
“Rises in crime after increases in the broadcasting of narcoseries makes perfect sense to me,” he said. “When drug trafficking starts to be presented as just another profession, it’s natural that more people are going to be drawn to it and that violence and criminality will increase.”
Those who defend narcoseries say that the shows reflect the reality of the drug war, and that limiting their airplay would amount to censorship. Colombian actor Robinson Díaz, who plays the character of El Cabo in El señor de los cielos and El cartel de los Sapos, told Listin Diario that the shows are “simple reflections of society,” and that they don’t influence people’s decisions to enter the crime world.
“It would be really stupid to think that the fictional characters are going to help the viewers live in that environment,” he said. “If people choose that path, it’s up to them, but I don’t think TV shows are involved in their decisions.”
For Mexican actor Damián Alcazar, who has appeared in the narcoseries Señora Acero, Metastasis and Narcos, the shows represent more than just banal entertainment. Alcazar sees narcoseries as an important way for Mexico and Latin America to process the drug war.
“We can’t talk about how life is beautiful, nothing’s going on here, when many citizens are dying every day,” he said in an interview with Laura Carlsen on Telesur. “We need to talk about our reality. There is cinema for everyone, there are stories for everyone, and for people who are interested in what is going on in their country, there’s no other alternative than to deal with these issues.”