Case of TV sexual harassment grips Mexico

Co-hosts Enrique Tovar and Tania Reza on their show, “A Toda Maquina.”

LIMA, Peru — Even in a country notorious for machismo and sexual harassment, you might think that male TV presenters would know not to molest their female partners on air.

But that message didn’t get through to Enrique Tovar, a star of a local station in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

His lewd remarks and inappropriate touching of his co-host, apparently on live TV, prompted her to storm off the set of their show “A Toda Maquina” last week, triggering a national firestorm about his inappropriate actions.

Over the course of three minutes, Tovar attempts to lift Reza’s skirt, rubs up against her, touches her breast and directs repeated sexist comments at her.

At one point, as he brushes up close behind her, he sings: “You raised my hopes.” Reza replies tartly: “You got your hopes up all on your own.”

The three-minute clip makes increasingly awkward viewing as Tovar appears oblivious to the obvious discomfort he is causing Reza. She eventually demands: “Let’s change presenter,” and adds: “I can’t work like this.”

As she finally removes her microphone and walks off set, Tovar tells viewers: “I apologize. I think my partner is a little hormonal.”

The incident has prompted national headlines in Mexico. And the country’s official National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination has launched an investigation against Tovar, accusing him of “sexually harassing Tania Reza through attitudes that may be considered discriminatory and contrary to the rights of women, among them, to a life free of violence.” 

It was particularly striking coming in Ciudad Juarez, a city long notorious globally for its extremely high levels of femicide, the murder of a woman simply because of her gender. 

But the most surprising part may have been yet to come.

As Televisa, the network that dominates Mexican airwaves, investigated the incident at its Ciudad Juarez affiliate, Reza and Tovar claimed the whole episode was an act, intended to boost ratings.

If so, you might think Reza deserves an Emmy for her performance, with her discomfort coming across as all too real.

That also prompted Televisa to fire the pair, at which point Reza then changed tack and claimed she had been pressured by producers to make the false claim to cover up Tovar’s abuse.

The latest is that Televisa has suspended the producers, accusing them of coming up with the idea to help clips of the show “go viral.” The company also claimed, improbably you might think, that its preliminary investigation found the show was pre-recorded and not broadcast live. 

It also reinstated both Reza and Tovar and is requiring them to give on-air talks to raise awareness about sexual harassment.