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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

One Month After Mexico’s Presidential Elections, Attacks on Journalists and Media Continue

Press Freedom Groups Reiterate their Call on President Elect to Make Journalists’ Safety a Priority 

By: A. Jay Wagner, IPI Staff

Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto smiles during a news conference in Mexico City on July 18, 2012. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Romero

VIENNA, July 31, 2012 – As Enrique Peña Nieto prepares to assume the Mexican presidency, his public focus has been on scaling back the drug cartel-related violence in the country. Meanwhile, at least four incidents involving journalists being assaulted, abducted, threatened, or arrested have occurred since Mexico’s July 1 election, continuing the nation’s abysmal record of protecting its journalists and their rights. 

Press freedom groups, including the International Press Institute (IPI), the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF) reiterated their call on President-Elect Peña Nieto to take responsibility for press freedom violations and make the rights and safety of journalists a priority in his new administration.

“We understand that Mexico’s political situation is extremely complex and successive administrations have failed to address the problem of the growing power of the drug cartels and the state’s institutions’ inability to rule over the country,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said. “Nevertheless states hold ultimate responsibility for the safety of journalists working within their territories and have to be held accountable.”

Larry Kilman, deputy CEO of WAN-IFRA, commented: "Journalists in Mexico are being targeted, intimidated, attacked and murdered simply for doing their jobs, and the attackers do this without fear of prosecution. The result of these actions is that citizens are no longer properly informed, and the press can no longer adequately play its role as watchdog over public institutions.”

On July 29, the premises of daily Sierra Madre, a supplement of El Norte newspaper, were attacked by armed men who entered the building, poured fuel and ignited it, in San Pedro Garza García, near Monterrey. This was the third attack in less than a month to El Norte: on July 10, a grenade was thrown at the headquarters of La Silla, and later that day assailants targeted Linda Vista, with a grenade and gunfire in Monterrey. Both are branches of El Norte daily newspaper.

On July 23, Veracruz photojournalist Miguel Morales Estrada was reported missing. He had last been heard from on July 19 when he told executives at Diario de Poza Rica that he was leaving town to “take care of some personal problems,” according to a statement by the Veracruz government. 

Morales Estrada had encountered problems in the past, having been abducted from his office by a gunman last year. According to the Spanish news agency EFE, in the past two years, nine media workers have died in Veracruz, widely considered one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, as local drug cartels ruthlessly battle for supremacy.

On July 16, someone ransacked the home of Hiram González Machi, a journalist and director of a local news program in the city of Nogales, Sonora State, who also covers crime for Nogales daily Nuevo Día. Multiple notes threatening his life were found at the scene of the crime. One of the notes warned: “Reporter, you're going to die.” González Machi’s house had been broken into on three previous occasions.

The Nuevo Laredo offices of El Mañana were also attacked on July 10 by assailants who threw a grenade at the main entrance. El Mañana was attacked again with a grenade the following morning. After a similar attack in May, El Mañana published an editorial stating they would no longer cover conflicts between criminal organisations. The paper reiterated this moratorium in another editorial after the July assaults.

On July 5, authorities arrested and detained Monterrey journalist Sanjuana Martínez for two days, ostensibly in connection with a civil case in which she was involved. Martinez, a well-known journalist, had written a July 2 column denouncing the federal presidential elections as fraudulent. She had also published in 2008 a report denouncing the judge that now ordered her arrest. Press freedom groups have called into question the motive for the arrest, believing the civil dispute to be a pretext for punishing her. The nature of Martinez’s arrest is also dubious, as she was detained without legal paperwork and only shown an arrest warrant after being placed in custody.

“IPI urges President-Elect Peña Nieto to make the rights and safety of journalists a priority in his new administration, because without an independent media a country cannot be truly democratic,” Bethel McKenzie said. 

“The only way of putting an end to the violence against journalists is by putting an end to impunity,” said WEF President, Erik Bjerager. “We call on Peña Nieto to take on this challenge.” 

IPI’s General Assembly in June unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Mexican government to protect journalists and to end impunity for their killers. WAN-IFRA expressed its full support for the resolution.

In the resolution, IPI members “resolved that the Mexican federal government holds ultimate responsibility for guaranteeing the safety of all journalists working within its borders - including those covering the ongoing conflict between the government and organised crime and drug traffickers.”

Earlier this year, five Mexican journalists were killed in a 30-day period spanning April and May. In 2011 Mexico was among the deadliest countries for members of the media, according to both IPI’s and WAN-IFRA’s records. Most of those killings remain unsolved.

Peña Nieto will take office Dec. 1, returning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power after a 12-year hiatus that interrupted 71 years of prior PRI rule. Peña Nieto gained 38 percent of the vote, while runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate, took 32 percent and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN) obtained 25 percent. López Obrador, who called the elections a sham, has accused the PRI of buying votes and has formally filed a judicial challenge. A decision by the Federal Electoral Tribunal on the validity of the election is expected on 6 September.

In the run-up to Mexico’s presidential elections, WAN-IFRA, IPI and WEF sent letters to the three presidential candidates, asking them to explain the measures they would take to end violence against journalists and to bring their attackers to justice.

“We are seriously concerned at the horrific levels of violence facing journalists in Mexico,” the groups wrote. “At least 53 have been murdered in the past 6 years and many more have disappeared. In very few cases have the perpetrators been brought to justice and those who kill and threaten journalists are routinely protected by a climate of impunity.”