Factors of Decline for Press Freedom in Mexico | Freedom House

Factors of Decline for Press Freedom in Mexico

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By Margaret Marshall, Program Officer for Human Rights Initiatives

Why has the state of press freedom in Mexico been in decline over the past decade?  Journalism is vibrant, there are legal provisions for freedom of expression, and the space for civil society to operate is opening.  However, the current environment is unstable, insecure, and complicated. Here are some the key factors behind Mexico’s decline:

1. Threats and impunity for violent attacks

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Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. Those who report on organized crime or corruption in the local and federal governments are often threatened with violence. According to the international media watchdog Article 19, 76 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000. In addition, 16 journalists have disappeared since 2003, and 225 incidents of aggression against journalists and other media workers were documented in the first three quarters of 2013 alone. Impunity for these attacks is the norm. 

2. Weak institutional framework

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The Mexican constitution establishes freedom of expression in Articles 6 and 7, and criminal defamation statutes have been eliminated at the federal level. However, 12 states still have criminal defamation laws on the books, and both the criminal and civil laws are often used to intimidate journalists. Mexico also has a freedom of information law in place, but information can be withheld if doing so is in the “public interest.” The special prosecution and protection mechanisms established to address crimes against journalists have suffered from jurisdictional weakness, insufficient resources and funds, and lack of transparency. Police forces often fail to protect journalists because they either fear organized crime or are involved with the criminal groups.

3. Status of the press in society

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Journalists are caught in the constant battle between organized crime and the federal and local governments. Major political parties, such as the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), exercise influence over some media outlets, indirectly pressuring journalists to report biased stories that limit the information available to news consumers. Although journalists risk repercussions for reporting on drug cartel activity, they can also find themselves reporting on behalf of the cartels. Mistrust between society and journalists is not necessarily a new phenomenon linked only to the current decline. It is also based on the fact that the media have been at the service of one interest or another for many decades.

4. Limited ownership

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Televisa and Azteca are Mexico’s two largest media conglomerates. Their virtual duopoly stifles competition, and they are often accused of collusion with politicians and unethical business practices. During the 2012 presidential election, Televisa was widely criticized for favoring the campaign ads of the victorious PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. Such problems led to the formation of a student movement, Yo Soy 132, that demanded access to information and freedom of expression during the campaign period.  The owner of Azteca, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, has been involved in a variety of scandals, including U.S. civil fraud charges for a scheme to hide millions of dollars in financial transactions.  

Despite these factors’ negative effects on the press and freedom of expression, journalists and civil society groups have launched local initiatives to fight for their rights and for protection. For example, Freedom House has created a program allowing journalists and bloggers to report violent attacks via e-mail and Twitter and post them on a web-based map. The Legal Center for Human Rights works with civil society organizations to strengthen the institutional framework for freedom of expression and the press. And the House of Rights of Journalists helps to improve professional, organizational, legal, and social services for reporters. There are grounds for optimism in Mexico, but there must be systemic change before the press can enjoy a truly free operating environment.

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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