Mexico’s War on Journalism

By Eliana Carter, Vijay Mittal, and Preston Moore

Looking up from the phone screen on the walk home, it becomes apparent that you have a tail. Seeing a hand move inside of the trench coat, the outline of a weapon becomes apparent and your heart rate quickens. Bracketed and alone you remember that the federal agents told you to push a panic button if you suspected that some of the threats you received on your life were about to be carried out. Smashing the button while aiming for a crowd, in hopes of buying precious time, in minutes it is apparent that there will be no response from police. Instead, the notification will serve merely as an indicator to the corrupt local officials that their accomplices are carrying out the hit. The crowd screams as people begin to fall, a sudden hot punch in the back marks the gunmens’ success. This situation parallels real cases within Mexico. In recent decades, the violence has increased year after year and with it the number of journalists who have lost their lives to a violent policy of censorship allowed to take place with impunity. Violence within Mexico has reached levels that compare with countries amid civil war. More than thirty thousand people lost their lives in 2017 throughout Mexico. The majority of these deaths were a result of the increased violence between competing criminal organizations locked in the drug war.

Photojournalist for Proceso, Ruben Espinosa

Mexico’s freedom of the press is under attack by organized crime and corrupt government officials. In late 2006, Felipe Calderon initiated his War on Drugs. This war came to be known as a war of silencing. Large amounts of cash helped corrupt officials begin to use narcotics as a pretext to operate with impunity. The task of an investigative journalist is to critically report on topics of interest, such as crime, political corruption or economic crisis. In 2012 President Enrique Nieto took power and the violence only increased. Ruben Espinosa is just one of many reporters who have been silenced, found murdered as a result of looking into the Veracruz government. Espinosa investigated political corruption and captured many pictures of protests and the state police response. In 2015, Espinosa covered a student protest against the governor Javier Duarte. Espinosa released a photo he shot of Duarte and started receiving death threats. Article 19, an NGO watchdog for freedom of expression in Mexico, initiated missing journalist protocols and shortly after that, Espinosa and four others were found executed in his Mexico City safe house.

Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico from December 2006 to November 2012

The United States of America and the United Nations have both pushed to support local government efforts to stem this bleeding. These efforts include security teams, surveillance and panic buttons. The buttons often did not work or alerted authorities that end up executing the crime themselves. The other measures have proved just as ineffective, and reporters have been forced to employ self-censorship. The murder of investigative journalists means they can no longer hold the state accountable, allowing corruption to control the narrative. The Office of Special Prosecutor Against Freedom of Expression tasked with investigating political violence against journalists. However, they refuse to classify most cases as political violence. This government denial means that less than two percent of these political crimes get the investigative attention they require. International journalists report how politicians and journalists interviewed are either escorted by armed guards or interviewed in complete secrecy, reinforcing the narrative of corrupt government officials rather than the inquisition of the public; eroding democracy and the means of the public to combat the spell of drug money in their institutions.

Journalists have taken to banding together to gather evidence and find justice. Press organizations like the Mexican Environmental Journalists Network, REMPA, have declared solidarity with their fallen colleagues and put forth articles with what they need from the government in order to protect their human rights. These include transparency when investigating these crimes, guaranteed security in the exercise of free speech and journalism and a call for a serious investigation of these crimes. They cite many of the inert cases of colleagues that had disappeared and then were found dead. Human rights organizations, like Article 19, have researched and published extensive reports outlining the rates and amounts of violence targeting journalists. Their effort to investigate and disseminate this information has helped draw support and awareness of the issue.

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