Journalism in mortal danger: the view from Mexico

Thursday 18 October 2012, 16:25

Anabel Hernandez Anabel Hernandez is a Mexican investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom prize from the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers

Mexico is considered a democratic country but the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governed for seven decades and is now returning to power. The PRI created a strong tradition of censorship, threats and repression which did not change when it handed over power to the National Action Party (PAN) in 2000.

That culture has meant that media, and journalists in particular, consider the repression of freedom of expression to be ‘normal’ and ‘part of the job’.

In the past six years, 60,000 people have been killed in the ‘drug war’, with more than 20,000 people missing, countless clandestine graves and thousands of displaced families.

In such violence, journalists began to be threatened, disappeared and were killed. Accustomed to the culture of silent repression, media and journalists couldn´t recognise when such tragedies went from 'normal' to deadly.

The killing of journalists is intended to frighten other journalists and the media into not exercising critical journalism, much less investigative journalism. The government and organised crime are the beneficiaries of fear - and they are the ones who generate it.

Mexico's government, at all levels, is responsible because it does nothing to stop the killing of journalists. Article 19 studies show that most threats to journalists come from public officials, not organised crime. In 10 years, 86 journalists have been murdered in Mexico, 13 are missing (source: Reporters Without Borders) and dozens are under threat of death.

On 15 February 2006 the government of Vicente Fox created the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Against Journalists. That has not helped: since its creation 61 journalists have been killed (the vast majority during Felipe Calderón’s administration, including the journalist murdered on 14 October in Tijuana). The special prosecutor has never solved any case because of lack of research. The files remain frozen. The government knows that impunity is a call to keep killing journalists.

Last March, the constitution was amended. In Mexico it is now a federal crime to kill journalists. Many thought that would stop the killings, but from March to June this year six journalists were killed.

On 25 June, the Law on Protection of Persons, Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was approved. But journalists like Lydia Cacho and Timothy Andres Morales have been exiled because protocols are not activated, and journalists and human rights defenders are still in constant danger of dying.

Laws are an ornament if the government does not want to apply them and make them work.

The media have been indifferent to the killing of journalists, including their own colleagues. There is a terrible division between media owners. Distrust is total. Nobody does anything for anyone.

Most Mexican media, both local and national, are dependent on government advertising. That generates perverse media interests - with government-encouraged censorship in newsrooms, and no support for investigative reporting or accountability.

There is little training in editorial journalism - whether in the basics of journalism, good journalism practice, safety measures at work, or investigative journalism. The media do not want to invest.

Among Mexican journalists, there is a culture of poor defending of freedom of expression in newsrooms, and no unity against mutual distrust.When society is indifferent to the killing of journalists, we have not been able to make our audience understand that the death of a journalist is also a violation of the right to information.

In this deep crisis in Mexico, I believe strongly that, with international support, journalists should quickly change the way they think and act to safeguard their lives, and to defend freedom of expression and the right of society to be properly informed. Mexican journalists do not want to leave Mexico: we want to fight, to do our jobs and not to be silenced.

We need to create places for investigative journalism nationwide: a network of journalists committed to freedom of expression and truth. And to break the complicity of many provincial and national media.

How we can do it? That is the challenge.


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    Comment number 1.

    Unfortunately Mexico is not the only country facing these challenges with respect to journalism - South Africa is a prime example in which despite a dramatic move to a democracy a couple of decades back, the government there is increasingly clamping down on freedom of speech - see for a series of satirical takes on the controversial Protection of Information Bill there and its societal implications. It hasn't quite degenerated to killing of journalists in SA fortunately but has certainly succeeded in covering up much of the corruption which is becoming increasingly entrenched in the government echelons.


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