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Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. They are threatened and murdered by organized crime or corrupt officials with impunity. The resulting climate of fear leads to self-censorship and undermines freedom of information.
Enrique Peña Nieto’s election as president in 2012 has brought the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) back to power and has ended the federal offensive against drug trafficking that was waged during Felipe Calderón’s six-year presidency (2006-2012). But it has not in any way improved freedom of information.
Mexico continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. More than 80 have been killed in the past decade, and 17 have disappeared. Media are often the target of threats and armed attacks, especially in the north. These acts of intimidation are the work of drug cartels seeking to silence reporters and bloggers who cover organized crime and related violence.
Federal and state authorities also intimidate journalists. In San Luis Potosí, journalists with the regional daily Pulso were the targets of an “anonymous” hate campaign on social networks in early 2012 that was seen as a reprisal by the state government for a series of critical articles. In 2013, the federal government reached an agreement with certain state governments aimed at minimizing acts of violence and reducing widespread fears.
Impunity continues to prevail in almost all murders and disappearances of journalists. The police and judicial investigations into these murders are often closed quickly or are paralyzed by cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. The impunity is also due to collusion between organized crime and the political and administrative authorities, which have been corrupted or even infiltrated by the cartels at all levels.
The climate of violence and impunity has driven many journalists to flee abroad to escape the threats to themselves and often their families. Many news media have said they will no longer cover drug trafficking for fear of violent reprisals. This climate of self-censorship is detrimental to media freedom. Online social networks have in many cases become the only source of information on violence linked to the drug cartels, which no longer hesitate target bloggers who try to break the spiral of silence.
On the judicial front, the creation of a Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos Contra la Libertad de Expresión) in February 2006 has so far led to only one prosecution.
A constitutional amendment allowing the federal authorities to take charge of investigating and prosecuting crimes affecting the work of journalists was confirmed by the senate in 2012. This has led to the creation of a Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which is widely criticized as inadequate. The decriminalization of media offences at the federal level in 2007 has been one of the new real steps forward.
Finally, media independence and transparency is undermined by the very close connections between media and politicians. The media landscape is also characterized by a lack of pluralism, with Televisa and TV-Azteca holding 90 per cent of free and pay TV concessions. At the same time, the many community radio stations often still lack legal frequencies and are constantly hounded.
Updated in June 2013
Mexico now outstrips Colombia in the ranks of countries on the continent where the media is most under threat. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has recorded 46 killings of journalists since 2000 and a further eight have disappeared since 2003, either because of their work or most often for an unknown motive. The existence of the drug cartels goes a long way to explain this terrible toll. The start of the 21st Century in fact coincided with a new phase in the expansion of drug trafficking. The federal government, in response to a demand from the USA, was forced to boost control of its airspace by which the drugs reached the northern border. The “narcos”, who since then have been forced to use sea and land routes, have spread out over the country, fighting one another to control routes, infiltrating the apparatus of local government and exposing journalists displaying too much curiosity to greater reprisals. The situation worsened still further after Felipe Calderon took power in 2006, the date of the launch of a massive offensive against drug trafficking that left more than 5,000 dead in 2008, one quarter of whom were killed in the border city of Ciudad Juarez alone. At the height of score-settling between the Juarez and the Sinaloa cartels, combined with a brutal military response, Armando Rodriguez Carreon, of the daily El Diario, who had received several warnings that a contract was out on him, was shot dead on 13 November 2008. His colleague on the same paper, Emilio Gutierrez Issu, who was under threat from a group of soldiers, had decided to flee to the United States a few months earlier and was held in custody by immigration for seven months. Journalists have increasingly been choosing exile as an alternative to continuing to work under threat and not only from the cartels. Corruption on the part of elected officials, sometimes in cahoots with drug-traffickers, or human rights violations by police or the army are other high risk subjects for the Mexican media, especially local journalists. This state of affairs goes a long way to explain the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the executive or the courts to ensure that light is shed on the murder of journalists. Not one of the 46 murders since 2000 has ever really been resolved, as most of the investigations have been mired in irregularities. The special federal court, set up a few months before the election of Felipe Calderon, has produced few results. Between the date of its foundation and November 2008 this Special Court to investigate crimes committed against journalists (FEADP) under the auspices of the justice ministry (Procuraduria General de la Republica) has had 274 cases referred to it. It has handled only 88 and produced results in only three cases. Worst of all, it has frequently closed the file on the most serious ones, particularly those in which governors or their associates are suspected, systematically ruling out any link between the death of or attack on a journalist and their media work. This has especially turned out to be the case in killings in Oaxaca in the south of the country. On the legal front, there have been two major advances to notch up to the start of the Felipe Calderon presidency: decriminalisation of press offences at the federal level, promulgated on 12 April 2007, and the federalisation of murders and offences committed against journalists. This law, unanimously approved in the chamber of deputies on 2 April 2009, is awaiting approval by the Senate.
Mexico - 9 December 2013
Mexico - 3 October 2013
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