Mexico: Without free press there is no democracy

Mexico: Without free press there is no democracy - Protection

Freedom of the press is a key indicator for the democracy of a country. In Mexico, serious human rights violations do not exist if they are not spoken about and dissenting voices can be silenced without any consequence.

Reality is more powerful than any official line. However, submerged by a human rights crisis, society is a witness to the shutting down of independent and inclusive spaces. Dissent is uncomfortable for government and state authorities, but more so it is indispensable to an informed society that can openly criticise.

May 3rd marks World Press Freedom Day. In Mexico the outlook for media work is poor: since 2000, ARTICLE 19 has documented 93 murders of journalists, the most recent 20 during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto.

Journalists have found self-censorship is the only way to stay safe, particularly in regions where the greatest number of attacks are recorded. Without guarantees of safety, journalists have sacrificed freedom for security. Silence causes even greater harm when impunity prevails in the majority of attacks reported. In some regions, to tackle this, journalists have created networks to protect by themselves and speak out.

The deterioration of the freedom of the press is part of the reality that ARTICLE 19 has documented in our first report into attacks against the press in 2016.

From January to March 2016, 69 attacks against the press have been documented, including the murders of three journalists: Marco Hernández Bautista, on 21 January; Anabel Flores Salazar, on 8 February; and Moisés Dagdug Lutzow, on 20 February.

When broken down by region, Veracuz with 17, Guerrero with 11, and Mexico City with nine, account for the greatest number of attacks. In 2015, these regions also recorded the greatest number of attacks against the press.

Of those documented so far this year, public officials were pinpointed as the alleged perpetrators in 33 cases. Of those 33, 12 implicated members of the armed forces and federal police. The authorities often deny responsibility without initiating any investigation into implicated public officials, which obstructs justice and the right of the victims to the truth.

In the first quarter of 2016, ARTICLE 19 documented 15 threats, one attack against a communication platform, 19 physical or material attacks, 12 cases of harassment, eight acts of intimidation, six cases where journalists were illegally detained, and five cases of institutional violence (where the State uses its judicial system to punish critical press).

In total, 44 of the recorded attacks targeted men, 19 targeted women, and 6 were directed towards communication platforms.

Murders of journalists

On 21 January 2016, Marco Hernández Bautista, correspondent for Noticias Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca, was shot and killed in the municipality of San Andrés Huaxpaltepec, Oaxaca. He had been covering the local elections and their impact on powerful groups. He had also covered former presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s tour of the region and the situation of community radio in the area. He had already expressed fear of reprisals because of his work.

Anabel Flores Salazar, reporter for El Sol de Orizaba, was detained at dawn on 8 February 2016, by individuals dressed in military uniform. She was tortured and killed, and her body found on the side of the road, the following day, in the municipality of Tehuacán, Puebla. From the moment of her disappearance being reported, the authorities took steps to smear her reputation by stating that she was under investigation for links to organised crime, discounting Flores’ work as a journalist as having any relevance to her murder. Flores had been investigating forced disappearances in the region and had used police sources for previous stories.

Moisés Dagdug Lutzow, presenter on XEVX “La grande de Tabasco” and on local television channel TVX, was killed inside his own home, in Villahermosa, Tabasco, on 20 February. He has received death threats and had made changes to his home security system in slight of these facts. Dagdug Lutzow was publically critical of the administration of state governor, Arturo Núñez Jiménez.

Attacks online

Online attacks against journalists are becoming increasingly common. During the first three months of 2016, 15 online attacks were recorded: six threats through social media; eight cases of harassment (also through social media); and one cyber-attack against a communication platform.

The press is an easy target online. Such attacks can appear effective at censoring the media for a number of reasons: the consequences are not just the blocking of information but there are also financial consequences, such as the cost of repairs and the procuring of security services. At the time of the attacks, most online media platforms do not have access to the necessary tools for digital protection.

Any effort by the authorities to investigate attacks online, is normally fruitless. There is a tendency to disregard or give little credence to the facts, claiming that no crime has been committed, despite that these attacks often already exist on the statute books.

Critical and investigating journalists are faced with local and federal laws that allow the use of malware to spy and retain personal communications data. Regardless of whether these tactics are used or not in practice, the knowledge that these potential tools exist is enough to inhibit the free exercise of the right to freedom of expression, with chilling effect.

Violence against women journalists

Up until the end of March 2016, ARTICLE 19 documented seven attacks, where gender played a key role. These cases are characterised by having very specific effects of the personal, psycho-social, and professional lives of women journalists.

It is fitting to highlight that four of the documented cases occurred through social networks: two categorised as sexual harassment; one a threat of sexual violence; and another a death threat.

As has been outlined in M.I.E.D.O, a report documenting attacks against the press in 2015, attacks against women journalists and communicators, with a specific gender component, include: direct messages that aim to provoke, censure, or self-censure; invasions of privacy and spying; intimidation or editorial pressure; harassment and threats, particularly of sexual violence or threats directed at family members.

Attacks against community radio

Community radios fulfil a social function in the exercise of freedom of expression and Access to information. Communities are able to use community radio to raise their voices, express themselves and demand for their rights to be respected within a space where their cultural identity is recognised.

Attacks against community radio and their workers have not ceased. During the first quarter of 2016, ARTICLE 19 documented three attacks against community radio stations and their workers.

The state carries out disproportionate operations where federal police, and in some cases members of the armed forces, assault and detain those who work in community radio. The activities of the Federal Telecommunications Institute with regards to community and indigenous media are often reduced to just simply persecutions of community radio stations.

In light of the increasingly hostility against the press in Mexico, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican government to take concrete steps to tackle impunity and prosecute those responsible for attacks against the media.

On World Press Freedom Day, ARTICLE 19 stands in solidarity with media workers and communicators who face untold risk in exercising their freedom of expression, in Mexico and worldwide.