Mexico: Attacks against the press grew exponentially in the first half of 2020

Mexico: Attacks against the press grew exponentially in the first half of 2020 - Media

2019[1], the first year of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, was the most violent year for the press in Mexico in a decade, with 609 documented attacks. But in 2020, the country was already well on track to surpass this record. By way of comparison, the first half of 2020 has already surpassed the total number of documented attacks in all of 2015. If this trend continues, 2020 will be the most violent year for the press that ARTICLE 19 has recorded[2].

  • From January to June 2020, ARTICLE 19 registered 406 attacks against journalists and the media. This is a 45% increase on the same period last year, when 280 were registered. This means that during the first half of the year, the press was attacked every 11 hours.
  • The states with the most attacks were Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Quintana Roo.
  • ARTICLE 19 urges the federal, state and municipal governments to reverse this trend of violence by strengthening the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, as well as developing comprehensive public policies to guarantee the free and safe exercise of journalism.

Documented attacks against the press

Journalists in Mexico continue to be killed for their work. ARTICLE 19 documented the murder of two journalists from January to June:

In the second half of the year, two more journalists have been killed: Pablo Morrugares, on 2 August in Guerrero, and Julio Valdivia, on 9 September in Veracruz.  Pablo Morrugares, had protection under the mechanism for the protection for human rights defenders and journalists, but he and his bodyguard were shot in bar owned by Morrugares by an unknown number of assassins. Hours earlier, he had reported on Facebook live that Tlacos, an organised crime group, were responsible for a recent spate of murders.

Julio Valdivia was a reporter and correspondent for the newspaper El Mundo de Córdoba, who was allegedly killed by members of organised crime. His body was found decapitated on the train tracks in the town of Motzorongo. The reporter covered the violence in the border region between Oaxaca and Veracruz.

Under the current administration, 15 journalists have now been murdered because of their work.

The main attacks perpetrated against journalists and media workers are threats, intimidation and harassment, and blocking access to public information or unwanted editorial intervention on journalist work. Between January and June 2020, journalists in Mexico were subjected to:

  • 96 threats, 40 of which were death threats. This represents an increase of 26% over the same period last year
  • 91 cases of intimidation and harassment, representing an increase of 40%. In particular, smear campaigns doubled to 36 cases – almost reaching the total number of smear campaigns last year (39).  In Mexico, smear campaigns against press involve spreading character attacks via printed press and social media
  • The number of information blockages and alterations of content amounted to 61 cases, doubling the number of cases from last year.
  • A total of 47 physical attacks were recorded. This is a worrying increase of 80% upon the same period  last year .

The most violent states

 Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Quintana Roo registered the most attacks against the press in the first half of 2020. These regions saw 48% of the total cases of violence.

Compared to the same period in 2019, Mexico City escalated from 27 to 64 attacks. Of these, almost 30% were committed by federal government officials. Incidentally, attacks by federal government authorities almost tripled nationally.

With 49 attacks against the press, Puebla is a worrying standout – it went from being the state with the tenth highest number of attacks against the press in 2019 to the second. So far this year ARTICLE 19 has issued seven alerts related to attacks against journalists perpetrated by public officials in Puebla.

Compared to the first six months of last year, Oaxaca reported a similar number of attacks, going from 33 to 32. Veracruz reduced its documented cases from 33 to 26, however 30 journalists have now been murdered in the state since 2000.

The causes of violence

The intolerance of public officials to public scrutiny, particularly linked to the pandemic, the repression of protests, and the capture of public officials by organized crime, have all enabled the increase in attacks seen in the first half of this year.

Almost half of all 199 documented attacks were perpetrated by public officials. As ARTICLE 19 reported in its special report on COVID-19 and freedom of expression, one of the factors leading to this is officials’ refusal to answer questions or receive criticism about their handling of the pandemic. ARTICLE 19 documented at least 68 attacks against journalists and media outlets during coverage of the pandemic during the reporting period.

In this sense, there is a multiplier effect, where the same strategy as that of the Federal government of President Obrador is repeated in the states. Instead of serving as spaces for dialogue or transparency, both the President and state Governors use press conferences to stigmatize and denigrate the press. In Baja California, Governor Jaime Bonilla and his team are responsible for at least 11 instances of blocking press access to informationblock  and character attacks on critical media. The governor has called liars those who investigate and dispute the data

presented about the handling of the pandemic. In Puebla, 25 attacks, a little more than 50% of the state’s total attacks, are directly linked to the government of Miguel Barbosa, who rejects questions from critical media.

There is also an increasing gender component to the violence. Over the first half of 2020, ARTICLE 19 registered 6 gender-based attacks against men journalists and 23 against women.  The total number of attacks against women journalists over that same period almost doubled from 56 to 111.  Relatedly, 16% of these attacks  took place during the coverage of  protests, including women’s rights movements.

ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned about the role of organized crime in violence against the press. Quintana Roo, Guerrero, Baja California and Sonora are states where a high percentage of attacks are perpetrated by organized crime groups. Murders, the abduction of a journalist for more than 48 hours, and death threats by organized crime groups, are constant in regions where the border between the government and organized crime is becoming blurred.

Ending attacks on the press

ARTICLE 19 urges federal, state and municipal governments to take urgent action to reverse this trend of violence. The State’s obligations to protect journalists require it to act diligently and effectively to prevent killings and an increase in other attacks against the press.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the governments at state and federal level to:

  • Strengthen existing structures for the protection of journalists such as the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists
  • Develop comprehensive public policies to guarantee the free and safe exercise of journalism. These should include refraining from issuing statements that disqualify or stigmatize the press or place it in a position of greater vulnerability.

We further call for the Attorney General’s Office to diligently investigate cases, particularly those that are more serious crimes against freedom of expression. State prosecutors’ offices must investigate cases with due diligence in order to identify and bring before judicial bodies those responsible for attacks against the press. To this end, the investigative bodies must apply the Uniform Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes against Freedom of Expression.

 

[1] On 3 September, 2019 ARTICLE 19 issued a statement where it published the number of 249 aggressions. However, throughout the year the documentation processes continued and by the end of the year 280 aggressions were verified from January to June 2020. For more information see the original press release https://articulo19.org/primer-semestre-de-2019-en-el-nuevo-gobierno-cada-17-4-horas-se-agrede-a-la-prensa-en-mexico/, as well as the annual report 2019 Dissonance: Voices in Dispute: https://disonancia.articulo19.org/

[2] ARTICLE 19 Mexico registered attacks against the press since 2009.

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