The Suppression of Freedom of Speech, Press, and Media: The Case of Mexican Journalists in the 21st Century

By Angel Cardoza, Mysee Xiong, Krista Keplinger, Shaylene Fischmann

Members of the press holding images of murdered comrades in Mexico during a protest against the disappearance of journalists.

“we must not be silent, we must continue to write. Silence is an act of death and complicity.” — Jesús Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Over time, freedom of press and speech in Mexico has been systematically and purposefully eroded — leaving anyone who dissents at risk. According to ARTICLE 19, an organization tracking crimes against journalists, attacks against the press in Mexico have increased 163% from 2010 to 2016. The population of Mexico lacks full, unhindered access to information, and the pursuit of finding information and reporting on it has become a dangerous job. There were more than 20 reported killings of Mexican journalists from 2016 to 2017. When these human rights abuses occur, those responsible rest soundly, knowing the high impunity rate in Mexico will make it nearly impossible for them to face repercussions. Government and military officials, police, illegal authorities such as cartels, and those looking to protect their own wealth all seek to silence journalists, silence protest, and withhold information for various reasons, all of which stem from the desire for power and accumulation of wealth.

The Mexican government denies these civil rights to journalists, activists, protestors, individuals seeking information, the loved ones of victims, and the general Mexican public, who are systematically provided partial or false truths. When media cannot freely investigate, report, or publish due to systematic silencing of journalists, and freedom of the press is under attack, the society as a whole and democracy is under attack. Mexican federal investigators reviewed 117 killings going back to 2000, and only one has been solved. Of the 117 killings, only a handful of the cases have been further reviewed. The deaths are overwhelmingly determined to be unrelated to the journalist’s work, and not a crime against freedom of press/speech. These crimes are so prolific that Mexico is now considered one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.

Journalists gather to protest the murder of their colleague Jose Guadalupe Chan in Mexico on June 30, 2018.

Journalists in Mexico risk their lives to report, and many are killed. In May 2017, Jesús Javier Valdez Cárdenas, who risked his life to report on organized crime and created the news-outlet Ríodoce,was murdered, and his fellow journalist, Jonathan Rodríguez, was murdered the same day. Moisés Sánchez, The Union publisher, was killed after delving into a story of a local mayor stealing money, and Regina Martínez, who was an independent journalist that criticized local and the national governments, was murdered in 2012 after pursuing the mysterious death of a political official. These journalists died because of their occupations — they were murdered because of the truth they sought, and because of the public service they provided the general Mexican population and Mexican democracy as a whole. However, due to the high impunity rate in Mexico, guilty parties are rarely, if ever, held responsible. This creates an incentive for powerful elites to threaten, kidnap, or kill journalists if they believe their interests are at stake. This has eroded freedom of speech in Mexico, and has essentially made the truth inaccessible to the public in order to maintain power — which does not bode well for the future of Mexico’s democracy.

Human rights activists gather and protest the killing of journalists in 2017.

Crimes against protestors, activists, and the general Mexican public span back decades, with a complex and tangled history of political abuse, false truths, and human rights violations. Massacres and large disappearances of students and protesters have taken place with no answers from authorities. One of these atrocities was the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968. The massacre silenced hundreds of people dissenting against the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s policies, and directly afterwards, authorities gave unreliable death counts, harassed and threatened journalists who sought to uncover the truth, and exempted those who perpetrated the massacre from punishment via impunity. The massacre was a massive human rights violation, and an abuse of freedom of speech. The violence was perpetrated with the intention of protecting wealth and reputation — but the silence was broken and the false truths the government presented were challenged by individuals such as John Roda, who lived to recount the massacre.

However, these human rights violations did not stop in 1968 — instead, they have not only persisted, but have actually worsened over time. In 2014, a large disappearance of 43 students occurred. The students were ironically traveling to protest the very massacre that happened in Tlatelolco Square in 1968. The 2014 missing students case was blown open when evidence collected by journalist Anabel Hernández indicated the disappearance was masterminded by government officials and cartels such as Guerreros Unidos.

October 2, 1968: Tanks arrive at La Plaza de Tres Culturas to attack students and civilians protesting government corruption.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) aims to count and track journalists who have been threatened or killed. The CPJ states that 48 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992. However, other sources claim higher numbers. The CPJ provides assistance with detailed information on murdered journalists with full names, type of murder, and the journalists’ affiliated news outlet. The effectiveness of CPJ lies in the diligent record-keeping of journalists violations, which assists in later prosecution and judicial court usage. ARTICLE 19, an organization with a similar motive to CPJ’s, records threats and murders of journalists, but furthermore, the organization also calls on the government to make changes. Though truly progressive reform to protect freedom of speech and press remains to be seen, their website calls “on the Mexican government to accept the request for a country visit by the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and invite the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial summary or arbitrary Executions to conduct a country visit.” The government’s negligence is persistent, but organizers will not be silenced and will continue the fight for reform.

For the full dossier, click here.

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