On March 31, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador publicly and directly attacked ARTICLE 19’s Mexico and Central America office during a press conference. His attack prompted an outpouring of solidarity and support for ARTICLE 19 from journalists, activists and free expression and human rights organisations in Mexico and around the world.
The president’s vitriol and accusations come at a dangerous time for journalists and free expression advocates in Mexico, who work in an environment where threats, intimidation, and violence against them are commonplace.
Given this reality, we would expect President Obrador to be taking concrete measures to protect media workers in his country, and to address the unacceptable levels of impunity (currently running at 98% of all crimes against them).
Instead, we see a head of state undermining and stigmatising the vital role journalists play in the proper functioning of democracies.
Obrador’s attack followed publication of research by ARTICLE 19 into human rights violations against journalists by state-run media agency Notimex. The violations included persistent harassment of journalists who criticised the agency’s management.
Working with organisations Aristegui Noticias and Signa_Lab ITESO, ARTICLE 19’s Mexico and Central America team revealed in 2020 that the director of Notimex, Sanjuana Martinez Montemayor, had targeted and harassed journalists working for the news group, and used public funds in doing so.
Chat messages on WhatsApp revealed that Martinez coerced and bullied staff to launch attacks — primarily on Twitter — against individuals whose views and reporting she did not agree with.
The report also found that Martínez undermined Notimex’s editorial independence, ordering journalists to avoid reporting on particular topics, including on public institutions and Mexican officials.
Ana Cristina Ruelas, director of ARTICLE 19 Mexico at the time, said: “Notimex was created to relate news, promote the flow of information and strengthen public debate, not for its resources to be used to revile journalists, former collaborators and people who are considered adversaries by Sanjuana Martínez.”
ARTICLE 19 and its partners confirmed and identified the attacks and published a report on the matter on May 12, 2020.
In June 2020, ARTICLE 19 produced a second report that revealed the existence of two further Whatsapp chats that were used to issue attacks. They also show how the Director of Notimex intimidated her team.
“The Mexican Government can no longer remain silent,” ARTICLE 19 said at the time. ”It must investigate both the attacks and the misuse of public resources that allowed them to be carried out. We also call on the government to protect the journalists that raised their voices, as well as staff from ARTICLE 19 Mexico, Aristegui Noticias and Signa_lab ITESO, from further retaliation and attack.”
And yet, 10 months later, having failed to investigate attacks and increase protections for journalists, President Obrador openly and publicly attacked them, accusing ARTICLE 19, which supports journalists in Mexico and around the world, of waging a “conservative campaign” against him in collaboration with other conservative groups.
ARTICLE 19 has stated that it believes Obrador’s insults and criticism were designed as a distraction, an attempt to draw media attention and scrutiny away from other more urgent matters, and away from the president’s failure to adequately deal with the country’s endemic human rights problems, including the protection of journalists.
In June and July 2020, ARTICLE 19 presented two complaints linked to the case before the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humano – CNDH). It took five months for ARTICLE 19 to receive confirmation that the reports had been received, and in December it was informed that the complaints were handed over to an investigative unit and that the case was being reviewed
ARTICLE 19 has an extensive record of supporting free expression in Mexico, and since 2006 has championed the rights of journalists in the country and the region. This work included the legal defence of Sanjuana Martínez when her journalistic work put her at risk of a lawsuit ,and the legal team, led by the current director of the office, Leopoldo Maldonado, succeeded in having the lawsuit against her withdrawn.
In February 2021, the ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America office revealed that the head of the government’s public affairs office (Secretaría de la Función Pública ) met with Martínez in November 2020, but the status of the investigation is still unknown, and there has been no confirmation that the evidence was safeguarded.
Since releasing this information about attacks on journalists by Notimex, ARTICLE 19 has documented more than 15 further attacks. It is clear that as long as the Mexican government allows impunity and complacency to continue, along with disregard for human rights enshrined in international law, attacks on journalists will continue.
Read the 2020 report by ARTICLE 19 [Spanish]