Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
This year proved to be the most lethal in more than a decade for Mexican journalists. Drug cartels and corrupt police provided the biggest threats, along with an unfriendly legal environment. Although Mexico City's government began debating whether to abolish its local criminal libel statutes, the state of Chiapas adopted amendments that increased prison terms and fines for libel, and the Aguascalientes state legislature voted to reinstate libel as a criminal offense. Mexico's Senate suspended debate on a federal shield law. In 2003, Mexico's new Law on Open Records was praised as one of the best in the hemisphere. Although some journalists have put it to use, procedural hurdles remain. Courts did move to sentence two men for the murder of U.S. journalist Phillip True of the San Antonio Express; True was murdered in 1998 while preparing a story on the Huichol Indians. However, the men continued to elude authorities after skipping out on bond.
Media outlets in Mexico City and other major cities report freely on diverse and sensitive political issues and are able to criticize the government without interference. Journalists working outside major cities, particularly along Mexico's northern border, face harassment, death threats, and physical attacks. Newly elected congressman Saul Rubio Ayala urged supporters at a rally to attack reporters from El Debate; the newspaper had reported on Ayala's links to drug dealers. Police escorted reporters at the rally out of the area for their safety. In Chiapas, the staff of Cuarto Poder complained about a campaign of harassment from the state's governor. This atmosphere of intimidation peaked during a two-week period in the spring when 15 journalists faced a variety of different incidents of violence or threats. Four journalists were killed this year in Mexico. Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco was gunned down in a parked car in front of his children by hitmen from the Tijuana cartel. Ortiz was a co-founder of the investigative weekly Zeta and a member of a team from the Inter-American Press Association looking into the murders of prominent journalists in northern Mexico. Francisco Arratia Saldierna, a columnist in Matamoros, died of a heart attack after being tortured and dumped out of a moving car. A suspect arrested in his death is a former member of an elite army unit, and authorities connected him to the Gulf cartel. Roberto Javier Mora Garcia, editor of El Manana of Nuevo Laredo, was stabbed to death. One of the suspects in the murder was suspiciously killed in jail. Gregorio Rodriguez Hernandez, a photographer for El Debate in the state of Sinaloa, was assassinated by gunmen while eating dinner with his family in a restaurant in Escuinapa. Reporters looking into his death were threatened. A report in Zeta noted Rodriguez was likely killed by hitmen from the Sinaloa cartel because he had taken a picture of the former police chief of Escuinapa at a party with members of the cartel. All these killings took place amid a gang war between the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels. President Vicente Fox condemned the murders and promised federal action, but the lack of thorough investigations has fostered a climate of impunity and self-censorship.
There are approximately 300 newspapers, 10 of which have national reach; all are privately owned. Broadcast media are also mostly privately owned but remain concentrated in the hands of families that have long supported a dominant one-party state and less political freedom. Some media outlets are dependent on support from political parties or entrepreneurs aligned with the various parties. However, the major television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, seem focused more on ratings and market realities than sowing seeds of discontent within the more open political system. Although fewer journalists are accepting bribes, the system of journalistic corruption remains one of the most highly evolved in the hemisphere. Although the country's economy has some bright spots, underemployment is still rampant and some journalists are forced to either accept bribes or work multiple jobs to make ends meet. The economic situation has also forced a few journalists into accepting bribes from the drug cartels or other criminal enterprises.