Annual telethon comes up short as negative press holds back donations

Teleton, Mexico’s largest telethon that urges television viewers to donate money for the rehabilitation of children with disabilities, has suffered its worst ever year and last week was forced to extend its annual broadcast by four hours to reach its target of charitable donations.

The troubles follow criticism from the United Nations that Televisa, Mexico’s largest broadcaster that runs the Teleton, presents disabled children as “subjects of charity.”  Some have even suggested that the downturn reflects a broader phenomenon, which Senator Luis Miguel Barbosa described as “a national crisis of credibility” following the case of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa.

The Teleton in Mexico started in 1996 to raise money for disabled children’s rehabilitation centers (known as CRITs). The broadcast normally lasts for 24 hours (this year 28) and contains comedy and music segments. Last year’s Teleton raised $473,794,379 pesos ($32 million). Each year a face of Teleton is chosen to be its representative. This year’s face, comedian Eugenio Derbez, was blasted on social media, with one meme accusing him of charging over $41,000 to appear. derbez-teleton-meme

He wasn’t the only one facing criticism. In the run up to the event, Televisa received negative coverage for its involvement in scandals surrounding President Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife, former soap star Angelica Rivera. The First Lady released a video defending her expensive lifestyle in which she declared that Televisa paid her $10 million in 2010.

The highly lucrative deal was viewed with suspicion by some media outlets. Televisa already had a reputation for being close to the president, and had been criticized in the past for helping his rise to power.

Several commentators, including some working for Teleton, acknowledged the possible impact of Ayotzinapa on the event. Televisa journalist Carlos Loret de Mola complained: “For the Ayotzinapa case you should look to the mayor of Iguala and his wife, the governor who protected them, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Lopez Obrador (former presidential candidate) who helped hide the case, the political class for the violence sweeping the nation. But do disabled kids need to pay for this?”

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The 2014 United Nations report describing the Teleton as a promoter of stereotypes also impacted the event. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) urged people to avoid donating money.

Teleton President Fernando Landeros countered that the investigators had never even visited a rehabilitation center.

Lingering suspicions surrounding the event may have finally come to a head. Televisa has been repeatedly accused of using Teleton as a huge tax evasion scam, although the broadcaster deny this. “Tax deductions do not equal tax evasion,” notes one comment on their website.

Another persistent complaint is that it is not citizens, but the government’s responsibility to provide for disabled children. The United Nations expressed concern that “much of (public) resources for the rehabilitation of people with disabilities are in private management entities such as Teleton.”

Jorge Serrano, in an open letter to Eugenio Derbez, said: “if the people in charge of dividing and allocating the necessary amount of resources for each category of requirements within the country don’t do their job then that is not the responsibility of the people.”

Law professor John M. Ackerman argued: “Instead of tending to the symptoms, we need to uproot and transform an unjust system that permanently generates more poor, malnourished, sick, exploited and disabled people.”

Another criticism of the program is that too much of the donated money is spent on building opulent rehab centers, and could be better invested in more modest facilities and thus reach a wider number of needy children and reduce waiting lists.

Twitter: @Stephentwoodman

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