Jacobo Zabludovsky, a journalist who for decades was seen as a symbol of the tight links between Mexico’s government and press, died Thursday at age 87.
Zabludovsky anchored Mexico’s most-viewed evening news program for almost three decades, until 1998, covering the nation’s tragedies but also reflecting a solidly pro-government political line while working for the dominant Televisa network.
It all made him the face of the news, but also the face of a system that many considered repressive, though he later adopted a more independent stance in his second career as host of a radio news program.
“He was a journalist of many facets, of many moments in his career,” said Mireya Marquez of the Press and Democracy program at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City. “Jacobo became the face of a system of complicit relationships, the journalist of the official version that rendered the opposition invisible.”
The news manager for Zabludovsky’s radio program on Grupo Radio Centro, Arturo Corona, confirmed the death. Televisa said in a tweet that he died of a stroke.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, who returned the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to power in the 2012 elections, wrote in a tweet: “I regret the death of the lawyer, chronicler and journalist, Jacobo Zabludovsky.”
The rail-thin, energetic anchor spent some seven decades in broadcast and print journalism, interviewing figures such as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in his youth.
He was perhaps best known for his coverage of the 1985 earthquake that killed 9,500 people in the capital. Equipped with an early version of a mobile phone, Zabludovsky gave viewers a tour of the stunning damage in Mexico City’s center.
But he was widely reviled, along with most of the rest of the country’s press, for playing down the 1968 army massacre of students in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco square.
One of the darkest chapters of his professional history came in the 1988 presidential election, which pitted leftist upstart Cuauhtemoc Cardenas against Carlos Salinas of the PRI. Salinas eked out a narrow victory many claimed was the result of fraud.
Zabludovsky’s program, “24 Horas,” gave Salinas 141 minutes of total coverage over a 2½-month period, while it gave Cardenas about nine minutes.
In interviews in later years, Zabludovsky acknowledged the government had pressured journalists earlier in his career.
He revived his reputation among many with a brisk, folksy daily radio news broadcast in which he gave significant space to anti-government figures and as a campaigner for cleaning up the historic center of Mexico City where he was born.