Freedom of the Press
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Drug-related violence further undermined press freedom in 2007 as attacks on journalists spread geographically, impunity remained the norm, and self-censorship expanded. Furthermore, the Supreme Court blocked a politically sensitive prosecution in the case of a threatened journalist, and the firing of a critical radio journalist raised questions about broadcast concentration. On the positive side, the government eliminated criminal defamation, libel, and slander statutes at the federal level, and the Supreme Court threw out provisions of the country’s controversial broadcast reform.
Articles 6 and 7 of the constitution provide for freedom of speech. While President Felipe Calderon and the Congress ended criminal prosecution of defamation, libel, and slander by moving them into the federal civil code on April 12, most states still criminalize these violations. In past years, numerous politicians have used state statutes to pressure critics. The April federal Decriminalization Law obliges states to follow suit and eliminate criminal statutes at the state level. In one of the most controversial cases of the year, on November 29, the Supreme Court cleared Puebla governor Mario Marin of wrongdoing in the arbitrary arrest and harassment of journalist Lydia Cacho, who had linked Marin to a businessman accused of child prostitution. The ruling outraged journalist groups and provoked the resignation of the federal prosecutor of crimes against women. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended that Cacho seek refuge abroad to prevent further violations. A report in Spain’s El Pais suggested that big broadcasters had abandoned critical coverage of Cacho as part of a political deal. Legislation that would federalize crimes against the press, criminalizing any violent attempts or actions to hinder freedom of expression, was introduced by the Office of the Attorney General in September. The bill remained pending at year’s end.
Most of the worst violence against the press was linked to an expanding drug cartel dispute. Three reporters and three newspaper deliverymen were murdered in connection with their work; three more journalists disappeared and two others survived shootings. Killings marred four states, including two that took place far from the violent border region. In December, a group of unidentified gunmen killed La Opinion de Michoacan reporter Gerardo Israel Garcia in Uruapan, Michoacan, a new trafficking hub. Mateo Cortes Martinez, Agustin Lopez Nolasco, and Flor Vasquez Lopez, all workers for the Oaxaca daily El Imparcial del Istmo, were shot on October 8 inside their newspaper delivery truck. The newspaper’s editor had received e-mails warning him to reduce drug coverage. In April, Interdiario crime reporter Saul Noe Martinez Ortega was found dead near Agua Prieta, Sonora, on the Arizona border after being kidnapped by gunmen. Also that month, broadcaster Amado Ramirez was murdered while leaving work near Acapulco’s main square. Police charged suspects, but the case weakened when a witness recanted, Reporters Sans Frontieres noted. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, three journalists disappeared in 2007: TV Azteca correspondent Gamaliel Lopez and cameraman Gerardo Paredes in May and Tabasco Hoy crime reporter Rodolfo Rincon Taracena in January. The cases were linked to reporting on drug trafficking.
Media workers received all kinds of threats; gruesomely, severed heads of local people were delivered to two newspapers in Veracruz and Tabasco. This atmosphere took an obvious toll on coverage. Among other incidents, the Cambio Sonora newspaper in Hermosillo closed after two grenade attacks; Amado Ramirez’s Acapulco radio program was taken off the air in April owing to continued threats to the station following his death; reporters at Oaxaca’s El Imparcial del Istmo all resigned following the murder of their delivery workers; and big dailies in metropolitan Monterrey eliminated reporters’ bylines on drug stories and now adhere to official police narratives. The U.S.-based San Antonio Express News removed its border reporter after U.S. government sources received a report that traffickers were targeting a foreign journalist. The Foreign Correspondents Association urged correspondents to be especially cautious. A compounding problem was the abundance of drug money. Like police officers, journalists face the dilemma of plata o plomo, receiving silver or lead, and some journalists worried that drug money would taint their profession.
Through all the violence, government inaction on press cases persisted. The creation in 2006 of a special federal prosecutor’s office for crimes against the press has not led to any successful prosecutions in the 108 cases under investigation. Authorities blamed lack of resources and jurisdictional problems but had not strengthened the office by year’s end. The many pending cases include the murder in Oaxaca City of U.S. documentarian Bradley Will, who died while filming political disturbances in 2006. The case stands out because photographers published pictures of the apparent gunmen—identified as government agents—firing at Will. No serious investigations have resulted, press groups charge.
A greater diversity of perspectives is represented in media in the largest cities than in smaller states and the countryside. An estimated 300 independently owned newspapers are in operation. Television remains limited because of the duopoly (Televisa and TV Azteca) that has dominated Mexican broadcasting since the authoritarian era. A positive development occurred, however, when the Supreme Court in 2007 tossed out provisions of a 2006 reform of the Broadcasting Law that critics said would have extended ownership concentration into the digital age and left noncommercial broadcasters in limbo. Congressional follow-up was slow to materialize, however. The firing of critical radio host Carmen Aristegui for refusing to follow unspecified orders from W Radio owners Televisa and Grupo Prisa of Spain renewed criticism of editorial manipulation for corporate advantage. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights agreed to discuss the case at a hearing on media ownership concentration. Government officials are known to use public advertising contracts as a means of punishing unfavorable press outlets. After 33 years, Mexico City–based national radio station Radio Monitor went off the air in June owing to the withdrawal of public contracts by the government. The government does not restrict the internet, which was used by close to 22 percent of the population.