Obituary: Emilio Azcarraga

Emilio Azcarraga Milmo was an autocratic billionaire who dominated Mexican broadcasting by combining low-grade television shows with political favouritism.

Azcarraga, known as "El Tigre" for his fearsome business acumen and a shock of white hair, created an empire known as Grupo Televisa. It included four television networks with about 300 television stations throughout Mexico, 17 radio stations, numerous magazines and newspapers, three record companies, two leading football teams, America and Necaxa, and the Aztec stadium, as well as Mexico City's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Azcarraga built Televisa into the world's largest producer of Spanish- speaking television and in 1996 Forbes magazine estimated his personal fortune at $2bn, one of the largest in Latin America. "He didn't do anything small," said Jacobo Zabludovsky, Azcarraga's business partner and anchor of Televisa's nightly news. "Everything he did was planned on a grand scale."

His power depended upon close ties to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the right-wing Mexican party that has held power for decades, and he made no bones about the backing Televisa gave to PRI candidates and policies while suppressing news about the opposition. When, at a private dinner in 1993, the former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari asked powerful businessman to contribute $25m each to the PRI, Azcarraga pledged $70m. "I am a soldier of the president of the government," he was quoted as saying. "I, and all of you, have earned so much money over the past six years that I think we have a big debt to this government."

In return for his support, successive presidents helped Azcarraga maintain unchallenged control of the media and, even after public protest forced Televisa to introduce journalistic objectivity to its coverage, he remained their loyal supporter. The Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo said in a statement after his death last Wednesday that Azcarraga had been a "great businessman" who had "brought international prestige to Mexico."

In addition to influencing the political landscape of Mexico, Azcarraga sought to shape the view Mexicans have of themselves, with immensely popular television shows that relied heavily on game shows featuring saucy showgirls, mariachi bands and overwrought "telenovella" soap operas.

His philosophy was simple; he once told a meeting of soap-opera stars that the country was a nation of poor people who had suffered abuse and would inevitably continue to do so. "The television has the obligation to entertain those people, to take away from them their sad reality and their difficult future," he said. "I mean the middle and lower classes. Rich people like me are not clients of television because we never go out to buy anything."

Azcarraga demanded unquestioning obedience and absolute loyalty from his television stars and should they appear on any other network they would be summarily banned for life from Televisa. His style was notoriously belittling and he kept a tall wooden chair in his office in which those due for a reprimand would be told to sit so that their feet could not touch the ground, re- ducing them to sense of infantile helplessness.

But he was not always successful. In 1990 he launched a daily sports newspaper in the United States, the National, which closed 17 months later with losses of $100m and in 1986 was forced to sell his US television interests on anti-monopoly grounds.

Azcarraga was born, as legend would have it, the same month that his father, Emilio Azcarraga Viduarreta, bought Radio XEW, a Mexico City station that became the first stone in the family empire. The elder Azcarraga, who started out as a shoe salesman in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, was openly critical of his son and referred to him as "my son, the idiot".

He was sent to a military academy in the United States to toughen him up but he never graduated. Despite reservations, Azcarraga joined his father's company as a salesman at the age of 21 and took over as chairman in 1964.

In his private life Azcarraga indulged the opulent privileges - and privacy - of great wealth, amassing five wives, a good deal of property, private jets and at least one 240ft yacht. On 3 March in Los Angeles he made a rare public appearance to announce he would be handing over the running of Televisa to his 29 year-old son, Emilio Azcarraga Jean.

Edward Helmore

Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, businessman: born 6 September 1930; married five times (one son, three daughters); died Miami 16 April 1997.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?