Did US lean on Mexican newspaper?

United States pressure on Mexico to adopt a stronger anti-Sandinista position has aroused concern among Mexican officials, intellectuals, and press. The tug-of-war which has developed between the US Embassy and Mexico City News, this country's English language newspaper, illustrates Mexican anxieties.

According to several key News employees and to high-level sources close to the Mexican government, US Ambassador John Gavin has, after what these sources describe as ``an intense campaign'' lasting several months, succeeded in turning around the News's editorial policy and in causing personnel changes at the paper.

US Embassy spokesmen deny that there has ever been any US government pressure on the News.

But News employees and sources close to the Mexican government say that the Embassy was extremely annoyed by editorials in 1985. Those editorials were slightly critical of US policy in Central America and supported the position of the Contadora nations (Mexico, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela) attempting to help negotiate a peaceful solution in the region.

Many members of the US press corps who read the News's coverage say that its criticisms were extremely mild when compared with those which appear regularly in the editorial and news pages of leading US papers.

In the last half of 1985, the News received a lengthy series of phone calls and letters from the US Embassy's press section and from Ambassador Gavin, say News and Mexican government sources. According to sources close to the situation, Ambassador Gavin was vehement in his criticisms.These complaints were directed to the editor-in-chief Roger Toll and to the paper's owner, Romolo O'Farrill.

Sources close to the situation say Mr. O'Farrill did not want a head-on confrontation with the US, and backed down in the face of intense US pressure. Initially, editorial writers were transferred to other sections of the paper. Currently the News is not publishing any editorials.

Recently News Editor Roger Toll informed a meeting of News employees, upon instructions from the owner, that they must avoid criticism of US-Central American policy, Ambassador Gavin, or any overt praise of Contadora, according to News staffers.

Mr. Toll, when contacted, denied any partisan bias and stated that he was even a registered Republican.

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