Mexican Reforms an Important Step to Protect Journalists
Last month, the Mexican Senate approved a constitutional reform that makes crimes against journalists and media outlets a federal offense. While this is a positive step, there are reasons to be skeptical. On the one hand, the constitutional reform has to follow a long legal pathway to be ratified, including approvals by 17 of Mexico's 32 state legislatures. This means that a great deal of political will is necessary at the state level, where public officials are more likely to be involved in the attempts to silence the press and where the influence of organized crime and corruption is higher. On the other hand, Mexico's justice system is weak and the country's impunity record is dismal, particularly in cases involving journalists. Almost 100 percent of them remain unresolved.
Nonetheless, the constitutional reform is timely. According to the International Press Institute, 102 journalists were killed in 2011, 10 of them in Mexico, making Mexico the deadliest country in the world to be a journalist. Journalists also face regular intimidation, extortion and physical attacks, particularly those who report on organized crime or corruption. Self-censorship has become the norm among media outlets; in the most violent states, such as Tamaulipas, the press simply stopped covering news related to drug trafficking or violence.
The legal path ahead of the constitutional reform is complex. Once the reform is ratified, secondary legislation will have to be drafted and approved and it might be necessary to adapt the criminal code. The federal Attorney General's office is also required to draft a regulatory norm to establish the circumstances and mechanisms under which the cases could be brought to the federal level. Issues such as how to determine if the killing or attack was linked to their journalistic work, what crimes are to be investigated at the federal level and which ones at the state level and what procedure will be put into place to bring the cases to federal courts will need to be resolved. All of these questions, if not carefully addressed, may place further obstacles in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
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