Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom

MEXICO: Most Dangerous Latin American Country for Journalists

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Oct 16 2007 (IPS) - “Journalist’s Murder Condemned”, “Newspaper Editor Reported Missing”, “Organised Crime May Lurk Behind Disappearance of Newscaster”. Headlines like these appear ever more frequently in Mexico, the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists to ply their trade.

“The situation is serious and getting worse,” Brisa Maya, the head of the non-governmental National Centre for Social Communication (CENCOS), told IPS. According to this group, 33 reporters were killed and seven have been forcibly disappeared in Mexico in the last seven years.

The Paris-based organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual list of countries, ranked by their level of respect for press freedom, on Tuesday. Within Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba (165th) and Mexico (136th) are the countries with the greatest problems in this area.

Since September 2006, eight reporters have died in Mexico, says RSF, making it the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists to work in.

Maya says that the impunity enjoyed by those who attack and murder Mexican journalists leaves the door wide open for further attacks.

None of the cases that have occurred since 2000 have been cleared up, although there is a special prosecutor’s office, a legislative group and an office of the state National Human Rights Commission that are specifically dedicated to investigating attacks against reporters.

Many of the attacks are attributed to drug traffickers, but there are cases in which suspicion points to economic or political power groups. Most of the cases have occurred in the northern states of Mexico, on the border with the United States, and the southern state of Guerrero, one of the poorest in the country.

The Mexican justice system has been incapable of punishing the perpetrators, and impunity remains very much the rule, RSF reported.

Although the state no longer exerts heavy pressure against press freedom and freedom of expression, as happened when Mexico was governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) (1929-2000), violence is still on the upswing.

During the 30 years before conservative President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) took office in 2000, 121 journalists were murdered. Since 2000, 33 reporters have been killed, and seven have been forcibly disappeared.

Non-governmental groups like CENCOS, which have been monitoring the issue, presented a lengthy report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the state of freedom of expression in Mexico, and asked for a rapporteur to be sent urgently.

The Commission indicated it might accede to the request next year.

President Felipe Calderón, who like Fox belongs to the National Action Party (PAN) and took over from his predecessor in December 2006, has repeatedly said that he is doing everything in his power to guarantee journalists’ safety, and is determined to clear up the murders and disappearances.

Authorities in the states where the crimes have been committed, who belong to political parties other than the governing PAN, are all saying the same thing. However, none of the crimes have been solved.

To avoid becoming a target of attacks or kidnappings, several media outlets, especially in the north, have cut down on reporting on drug trafficking, while others like the leftwing weekly Proceso, which has nationwide circulation, have chosen to publish reporters’ stories without naming them.

“The investigations are not making progress, and impunity remains. That encourages violence against the media,” the head of CENCOS stressed.

According to the Mexican Network for Protection of Journalists and the Media, made up of the Centre for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) and other groups, “2006 was one of the worst years for attacks, offences and crimes against Mexican journalism in the recent past,” and the situation has not improved.

So far during the Calderón administration, three reporters have been murdered and three have been forcibly disappeared.

A lengthy report by the Mexican Network says that 131 incidents targeting journalists or media outlets took place last year. Of this total, 27 percent were threats, 24 percent were physical attacks, 15 percent were attempted crimes, eight percent were arrests, and the rest miscellaneous events.

The document points out that the number of journalists killed in Mexico is rising year by year. In the period 2004-2006 there were 20 homicides, “but 10 of them occurred in 2006, the highest yearly figure ever recorded in the country.”

The murders and disappearances of journalists have made Mexico “one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to work in this profession,” the Mexican Network says.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico expressed concern on Monday over the threats and killings that have targeted reporters.

“Attacking freedom of expression by targeting the person of a journalist is extremely grave. We view it with great concern,” said Amerigo Incalcaterra, the representative of the High Commissioner.

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