A report published today by ARTICLE 19 Mexico / Central America and SignaLab (ITESO) suggests the Director of the State News Agency of Mexico ‘Notimex’ coordinated a series of attacks on social media against journalists critical of the agency.
The findings are based on two reports: one that comprises interviews with former and current workers of Notimex, and a second rigorous technical analysis of interactions on Twitter targeted against journalists. The findings, which are fully supported by ARTICLE 19’s international leadership, concludes that Notimex coordinated attacks against journalists and former workers considered by the group to be “adversaries”.
ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned at the apparent use of institutional public resources being used to harass, discredit and smear journalists who are critical of the work of the Notimex and the Mexican Government.
Ana Cristina-Ruelas, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 in Mexico and Central America said. “For ARTICLE 19, for all citizens of Mexico, it is important that the state media agencies are viewed as a model – a benchmark – for guaranteeing freedom of expression. The findings of the report detailing a coordinated effort to discredit and threaten journalists highlights the degree to which journalists are seen as a threat to the State, and influential state actors are able to operate against them with impunity.”
The report explores how, through a WhatsApp group called ‘Avengers N’, workers at Notimex selectively coordinated attacks through social media channels. Testimony from workers collected by ARTICLE 19 claimed that Martinez asked staff to use their personal accounts, and create fake profiles in order to create posts aimed at protecting her reputation with the public.
The report findings are based on an examination of 8,000 tweets targeted against journalists. Hundreds of tweets issued per week aimed to position and amplify narratives which were seen as critical of Notimex and Martinez. The tweets came from a number of accounts such as @OverflowLucio, @SandyWong21, @Manho579, @SutntxAgoniza y @lui_ovejero.
Quinn McKew, Acting Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 emphasized that “Public officials have a responsibility to protect the right to freedom of expression at a time where it is under increasing attack around the world and in Mexico. This report shines a forensic light on practices that do not live up to the Government’s stated ideals. We call for an end to attacks of any kind against journalists who play a vital role in providing a critical lens on the public realm.”
ARTICLE 19 seeks action from authorities and institutions alike and calls on:
- President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to publicly condemn any aggression against journalists, and ensure that Notimex is not used to attack the press but rather to create the conditions necessary to exercise the right to freedom of expression free from intimidation and violence.
- The Ministry of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública SFP) to investigate the possible use of public resources to coordinate attacks against journalists.
- For the Director of Notimex to be suspended pending conclusive results of the investigation.
- The Federal Government, particularly the Social Communication department of the Presidency, to develop guidelines aimed at preventing any other public media and governmental office from using their resources to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the media.
- The General Prosecutors Office to conduct an investigation on the illegal leak of private information concerning the case of Manuel Ortíz, particularly information acquired about a minor.
- The National Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists to urgently provide protection necessary to prevent reprisals against the journalists affected by the coordinated attacks.
- The National Human Rights Commission to investigate any public institution’s involvement in harassment and attacks against journalists, including that of Notimex.