‘Mexican Government is main perpetrator of violence against journalists in Mexico’, says human rights expert

Dario Ramirez, head of Article19’s programme in Mexico‘The Mexican Government is one of the main perpetrators of violence against journalists in the country and complicit in its continuance,’ according to one of the country’s leading freedom of expression organisations.

Mexico is reportedly the second most dangerous country to work as a journalist after Iraq. But speaking to MexicoReporter.com last week Dario Ramirez, head of Article19’s programme in Mexico, was keen to dispel what he says is the generally held-belief that the main perpetrators of the violence are networks of organized crime.

“Let’s not fool ourselves and say that the perpetrators of the violence are the groups of organized crime, as the government wants us to believe.

“It suits the [Mexican] government that there is so much aggression against journalists,” said Ramirez.

2006 was one of the worse years on record

Last year ‘was one of the worst years on record for Mexican media workers with the greatest number of attacks on journalists and press freedom in the last 8 years,’ according to reports by Article19 and Reporters Without Borders.

Just last week, a newspaper distributor, Mateo Cortés Martínez, and two sellers, Agustín López and Flor Vásquez López, were shot dead in the street “La Noria” in Tehuantepec- Salina Cruz Highway, Oaxaca. The severed head of a local governor was left at the door of the “Tabasco Hoy” newspaper, in the city of Villahermosa in May. Amado Ramírez Dillanes, aged 50, an Acapulco-based correspondent for the broadcast station Televisa was shot to death near the city’s main square on a Friday evening in April. The list goes on.

There were 131 acts of aggression against journalist, including 10 murders in Mexico in 2006 alone – the highest levels of violence the country has seen against journalists for the last 15 years.

Contrary to popular opinion, statistics from Article19 report that state authorities remain the main perpetrators of the attacks, rather than organized crime networks. The Authorities commit 42% of the attacks, with 24% carried out by police, 12% by government employees and 2% by government institutions, according to a report by the NGO. Other groups to blame for the aggression include the drug cartels operating in the country (11%) and groups involved in social conflict.

In 19% of cases, the perpetrators remain unknown.

Culture of Impunity

Mexico has been criticised by human rights groups for what they say is a culture of impunity in the country, which in turn creates a climate of fear and self-censorship amongst journalists and media workers.

On a visit to Mexico in August, Irene Khan, director general of Amnesty International, described the situation “as one of a litany of impunity against human rights violations and the failure of the state to competently protect those who need the most protection of their rights.”

Both CENCOS (Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social) and Article19 have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on what they claim is the Mexican Government’s failure to protect journalists from violence

Only recently, the practice of self-censorship that has been adopted by journalists in Mexico was endorsed by Mexico’s Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, who said that he considers it a “good strategy” for journalists working on stories about organized crime not to sign their names to their reports, in order to protect themselves against possible retaliation.

Furthermore, the state Government of Chihuahua recently rejected calls by the Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights to investigate a serious case of assault journalists by police officers.

Steps to Tackle Aggression and Violent Crimes

Some steps have been made in tackling the high levels of violence. The Special Prosecution Office for the Investigation on crimes against journalists (FEADP) was created by the General Attorney’s Office on the15th of February 2006. Last year saw the introduction of new laws on the protection of sources and on the decriminalization of defamation at the federal district level.

NGOs claim that the efficacy of these measures has been minimal.

The United Nations has also taken steps, albeit small ones. In December, the Security Council condemned attacks against journalists in general a UN Resolution. It included a series of recommendations for every state in the framework of international humanitarian law, which includes Mexico.

Muddy Media

The problem is made increasingly complex by the levels of corruption within the media in Mexico, a lack of transparency and the general reputation of journalists.

“That’s a big problem,” admits Ramirez.

He said that Article19 is currently investigating the motives behind attacks on journalists.

“A lot of the time the aggression is not because of the journalist’s work but because he took money from organised crime or he had some kind of relationship with them,” he says.

Pay-offs and backhanders between journalists and the groups that they cover are rife. Low wages and a lack of strong unions make journalists very susceptible to bribes and corruption.

Moreover, the financial independence of some of the major media companies on Government advertising makes compliance obligatory for many.

That could be set to change. The Mexican Congress is currently in the process of revamping electoral laws that would put the breaks on the huge amounts of public money spent on electoral campaigns each year. Media moguls have denounced the proposed ban on paid political advertising on radio and television as an attack on free speech and are terrified of losing the combined millions that it amounts to each year. However, such changes could prove positive in the long-term for the editorial independence of some television and newspaper companies if they’re not dependent on the Government for their bread and butter.

But democracy is still in its infancy in Mexico and a free press – a vital component of any democratic society and respect for the right to freedom of expression – is yet to develop.

Until it does, journalists will continue to die and most of those responsible will continue to get away with it.


One Response

  1. […] studies have found that violence against journalists stems as much from Government officials as it does from narco-traffic, Hector’s piece really gives some insight into the reality for […]

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