Mexico: Serious crimes against free expression in 2012

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14 Mar 2013



  • Violence against journalists and media workers in Mexico increased by more than 20% in a year.
  • New government mechanism to investigate attacks is cosmetic with impunity levels so high that "information black holes" emerging.
  • The President must improve the function of the special prosecutor, who is responsible for the investigation of crimes against freedom of expression. The special prosecutor should work with greater transparency and be more accountable. More funding should be given to the special prosecutor to enable them to do their job effectively.

1. 2012, The year of violence

In 2012 ARTICLE 19 recorded 207 attacks on journalists, media workers and media facilities in 25 Mexican states, 35 more cases (20.34%) than in 2011. Seven journalists murdered, two kidnapped and eight attacks of media outlets with firearms and explosives were registered. These attacks went unreported as silence prevailed among media. ARTICLE 19 documented how the coverage of relevant events was silenced by most media across the country.

State agents are still the main responsible for attacks on the press like in 2011. In 2012 authorities from the three levels of government [State, provincial, and local] were responsible for 43.96% of the attacks (almost three times higher than those attributed to organized crime). The lack of standards and protocols within enforcement authorities has allowed a large number of attacks.

Organized crime groups continue to use media to spread their propaganda. Criminal organizations in 2012 forced media to disseminate their messages and adopt a favourable agenda.

Reporters and TV journalists are the most vulnerable groups. Last year seven out of 10 attacks against free expression were perpetrated against reporters and TV journalists. All journalists murdered were also from those groups. Almost 50% of victims are reporters and nearly 30% are TV journalists.

As the information flow has been affected by violence against the press, communities and entire regions in Mexico have become information "black holes" where the demand of information has increased. The situation is more dramatic in areas where media do not report on basic safety issues, like crossfire for example.

Social media has been a real-time alternative source of information when reliable facts are virtually nonexistent. In several occasions information shared on social media has created uncertainty among people as often authorities remain silent. As a consequence, new actors have emerged and are the ones who select and confirm information spread in these social networks.

Is not the information-sharing among society that causes uncertainty, but the role of authorities reluctant to take part in this new information cycle. It is the obligation of the State to fill those information gaps and respect the right to free expression.

2. Four faces, four victims of impunity

The cases of four Mexican journalists, (Armando Rodríguez, Chihuahua, Regina Martinez, Veracruz, Lydia Cacho, Quintana Roo, José Antonio García Apac, Michoacán) located in different times and places, whom the Mexican government was unable to offer guarantees to work, to preserve their lives or even their personal integrity, are recorder in this report. The State has denied access to justice and effective reparations to them and their families.

3. The State, cosmetic actions

Gaps in protocols and procedures in government institutions responsible for protecting freedom of expression and prosecuting their attackers have make them ineffective and incompetent. The lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of policies in these institutions are making them inefficient and costly.

The inability of these bodies to protect journalists is also related to the lack of legislation to govern their functions. This situation is also breeding ground for impunity.

Myths and realities of the "federalization"

Federal legislation is failing to prevent the advance of actions against impunity by not making amendments to the secondary legislation to give effect to the amendment of Article 73 of the Constitution.

Myth 1: This is a federalization of crime.

Myth 2. The federation will know of all crimes against journalists.

Myth 3. Only crimes against journalists related to their professional practice will be investigated. Myth 4. The adequacy of rules will eradicate impunity.

Myth 5. The Federation home know everything about the crimes that attract.

Along with the provision of adequate resources to the Attorney General, some changes and reforms must take place to ensure the proper operation of its office, like the amendment of (i) the Federal Code of Criminal Procedure, (ii) the Federal Criminal Code, (iii) the Organic Law of the Judicial Power of the Federation, and (iv) the Law of the Attorney General and its Regulations.

To reinforce the role of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE in Spanish) its legal mandate needs to be strengthened and its office has to be held accountable.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned with FEADLE’s lack of transparency. Basic information like the name, background and relevant experience of the Special Prosecutor, the directory of public servants or their incomes are still unknown. The FEADLE does not count with a staff directory available to the public.

- Ineffective protection mechanism for journalists

The mechanism of protection for journalists in Mexico is a delayed and incomplete response to the situation. It is when these mechanisms are implemented when difficulties arise between federal government and local entities. Even with cooperation agreements in place, many states refuse to collaborate.

With regards to the budget assigned to the Mechanism to Protect Journalists it is worth mentioning that according to information provided by the same body, until November 9, 2012 no funds were allocated to implement protection measures granted by the same office. Since the adoption of the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists the enforcement authorities, have been unable to prevent the attacks, even though it is their legal responsibility. They have failed to implement the Law because the Secretary of the Interior (Interior Ministry), in charge of designing the protocols, has not provide local governments with the protection mechanisms that must be implemented once a complaint is filed or when a journalist is under risk.

- National Commission of Human Rights

Responses to information requests from the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) are inconsistent. The information about complaints and recommendations that is forwarded to the Senate is inconsistent with the information they publish.

From 2005 to 2012 the Commission issued 25 recommendations related to freedom of expression. Eight of them were addressed to more than one instance, out of the 33 authorities in charge. Twenty-seven of those authorities accepted the recommendations.

It should be noted that none of these recommendations have led to criminal penalties to public servants identified as perpetrators of attacks against journalists, and since 2005 only two administrative sanctions have been imposed.

- Journalists taken to court

ARTICLE 19 has condemned the criminalization of the exercise of freedom of expression and the worryingly increase of defamation and slander charges to limit journalistic practices.

ARTICLE 19 found in 2012 that in 13 states defamation is still criminalised with prison.