Seeking to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship.
Jorge Sanchez decided to become a journalist when his father, the founder of a community newspaper, was kidnapped and murdered in January.
Now, as a wave of violence against reporters continues to sweep his home state of Veracruz — often called the most dangerous in Mexico for the news media — Sanchez fears he and many others could meet the same fate.
At least 11 Veracruz journalists have been killed in the past five years in the eastern state, leading Reporters Without Borders to rank it the third most dangerous place in the world to practice the profession, after Iraq and Syria.
Sanchez and his colleagues’ fears have only grown since photojournalist Ruben Espinosa, who had fled Veracruz after being threatened and harassed, was found brutally murdered with four other victims in a Mexico City apartment on July 31.
A month before the Mexican photojournalist Rubén Espinosa was murdered in Mexico City in late July, the governor of Veracruz, the province Mr. Espinosa had fled fearing for his life, gave other journalists a warning.
Mr. Duarte said that his warning was meant to deter journalists who are sympathetic to drug traffickers and other criminals. But many Mexican journalists understandably saw it as a threat to journalists who produce critical coverage of local officials.
Since 2010, at least 41 journalists have been killed in Mexico. Roughly 20 have disappeared. Mexican journalists are targeted by powerful criminal organizations and in some instances by government officials who don’t want their misdeeds exposed. The majority of cases remain unsolved, leaving journalists in many parts of the country with a terrible choice: they censor themselves or get silenced by a bullet.
In a Mexico City cemetery reporter Pedro Canche looks haggard as he lays a hand-written note among yellow flowers on the grave of a young colleague.
“I owed it to him to come here because we’re in the same state of persecution,” he says, eyes scanning the empty graveyard for anyone lurking in the nearby trees.
He’s paying his respects to Ruben Espinosa, a 31-year old photojournalist murdered in Mexico City on July 31. He was killed along with four women, including an activist, in a flat in a calm middle-class neighbourhood. All the bodies showed signs of torture, some of the women had been raped, and all had execution-style shots to the head.
Eight months ago, Mexico’s first lady, known for her fondness of designer clothes and European vacations, made a public promise to sell a multi-million-dollar mansion bought under controversial circumstances. She’s purchasing the home, at below market rates, from a contractor with lucrative connections to her husband.
The scandal has been one of the biggest to rock the president’s administration. And months later many questions remain regarding the questionable purchase — and the first lady hasn’t sold her house.
By: Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Latin America Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center
Co-authored by: Georgia R. Baker, Outreach & Communications Intern at the Mexico Institute
Press Freedom in the Americas has been in a general decline for the past 15 years. According to Freedom House’s latest findings (2015), only 43% of the countries in the Americas are ranked as having ‘free’ press. The remaining countries fall in the range of ‘partly free’ (43%) and ‘not free’ (14%). Moreover, the report states that “as journalists faced violence and intimidation from both government authorities and criminal elements, several countries in the Americas, including Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela, received their worst press freedom scores in over a decade. The regional average score fell to its lowest level of the past five years, with declines across the legal, political, and economic categories.”
In light of this decline, Chairman Duncan of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard testimonies from five witnesses on July 29th in order to address the ongoing issue of press freedom in the Americas. The four panelists were: Carlos Ponce, Director of the Latina America Program at Freedom House; Carlos Lauría, Senior Americas Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists; Claudio Paolillo, Chairman of the Freedom of the Press and Information Committee at the Inter-American Press Association; Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, Co-Director of El Universo in Ecuador and; Alfredo Corchado, former fellow at the Wilson Center and the current Mexico Bureau Chief at The Dallas Morning News. Chairman Duncan opinion of the hearing is as follows:
“The ability to speak openly without censure or fear of reprisal is a hallmark of free peoples everywhere, and freedom of the press is critical to sustaining democracy and the rule of law…In the Western Hemisphere, the growing trend of conditioning or even curtailing press freedoms is deeply disturbing. From severe government repression and outright targeting of journalists by Cuba, Venezuela, and Ecuador to organized crime, corruption, and impunity in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, journalists have very difficult jobs, often risking their very lives and their loved-ones to bring information and the truth to their fellow citizens… I look forward to considering how the U.S. can better engage in the region to more effectively promote press freedoms and defend every persons right to freely express themselves.”
Mexico, more specifically, ranks 31st out of the 35 countries in the Americas, followed only by Ecuador, Honduras, Venezuela and Cuba. Mexico’s global ranking is not any better, ranking 139th out of 199 countries. Out of 100, its press freedom score fell at 63, placing it in the category of ‘not free’ by Freedom House’s standards:
“Mexico remained one of the world’s most dangerous places for media workers in 2014, and freedom of expression faced new threats with the adoption of the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act in July. Multiple attacks on journalists and media outlets were carried out during the year, reporters faced police aggression while covering protests, and self-censorship remained widespread. While the telecommunications and broadcasting law allowed greater competition in both sectors, it also granted the government powers to monitor and shut down internet activity during protests.”
According to Carlos Lauría, the inability of reporters to freely publicize the news is of the greatest consequence for the public: “Because of government repression, many journalists are not able to report the news. This is leaving many people in many countries to make informed decisions. I think that an uninformed society is a less transparent and less democratic one.” However, Lauría goes on to say, “The issue is not black and white. There are places where there is great investigative work going on the reveals and exposes corruption…Even in countries like Mexico, where areas are outside of the control of the government…you have great examples of courageous journalists doing investigative work on corruption.” On his part, Alfredo Corchado echoed what Lauría had to say, but noted that the consequences of the heroism in journalism is not without consequence, reminding the committee that many journalists from Mexico and Latin America have had to seek political asylum in the US, despite how many people still believe in journalism as a mechanism for holding the government accountable.
As such, the panelists called upon the US Congress to persuade the executive branch of the government to have a stronger voice in these issues: “There are legal dictatorships in place today. We need to look back at the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It is in place now, it is enforceable now.” Certainly, when one considers the decline in press freedom in our backyard, it seems that the US can no longer ignore these basic violations of human rights.
Mexico City media landscape has evolved rapidly over the last 20 years. While some critics still complain that TV giants such as Televisa and TV Azteca focus more on supporting the official government view than engaging in critical investigative journalism, gone are the days when all newspapers relied on government ad revenue and paper from a state-owned company.
An independent Mexican commission said on Thursday it found serious flaws in an investigation into the apparent massacre of 43 students last year, dealing a fresh blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto over a scandal that has battered his administration.
The case became a symbol of impunity over disappearances and plunged Pena Nieto into his deepest crisis after the 43 trainee teachers were abducted and very likely murdered by a drug gang working with corrupt police in southwest Mexico last September.
A report by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said the attorney general’s office, which has only identified the remains of one of the 43, still had not compiled basic information about the victims, who came from poor backgrounds.