Freedom of the Press
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Media freedom continued to decline in 2008, as Mexican journalists worked amid growing organized crime–related violence that claimed over 6,000 lives during the year. Attacks against journalists, compounded by impunity and government inaction, remained one of the key threats to press freedom.
Articles 6 and 7 of the constitution provide for freedom of expression. Legislation passed at the federal level in 2007 decriminalized defamation, libel, and slander, moving them to the federal civil code. The law also obliged the states to follow suit, but most states still treat these transgressions as criminal offenses. In past years, numerous politicians have used the state laws to pressure critics. Separately, after taking months of testimony, a special commission on crimes against journalists proposed legislation in October that would federalize such crimes as a way to overcome systematic impunity. The proposal was supported by a number of domestic and international press rights groups, but it appeared stalled in the legislature at year’s end. Inaction by authorities investigating crimes against the media is one of the principle causes of significant self-censorship in Mexico. A special federal prosecutor devoted to the issue continued to operate in 2008, but lacked sufficient legal authority to be effective. In one possible sign of progress on past crimes against journalists, a state court judge in April sentenced a former Sinaloa police chief and three accomplices to 11 years in prison for the murder of photographer Gregorio Rodriguez Hernandez in 2004. However, the mastermind who ordered the killing was never identified, the sentence was appealed, and a number of doubts have since arisen about the case.
Violence against the media remained a key issue of concern in 2008, as journalists were targeted by drug cartels, criminal gangs, and occasionally the military, police, and politicians. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed or strongly suspected that four journalists were killed in connection with their work during the year. Two journalists and indigenous community advocates, Teresa Bautista Flores and Felicitas Martinez, died in April when unidentified gunmen attacked their vehicle. They had been hosts for a new radio station known for denouncing abuses within the Triqui community and had previously received threats. Separately, radio host Alejandro Zenon Fonseca Estrada was shot and killed on a major street in Villahermosa, Tabasco, in September, after he refused to take down banners encouraging citizens to report kidnappers to the authorities. He had publicized the banner campaign on his popular radio show. In November, an assailant shot crime reporter Armando Rodriguez of El Diario in Ciudad Juarez at least eight times as he sat in his driveway with his young daughter. The authorities had reportedly failed to act on earlier death threats against him. Press freedom groups reported another seven killings of journalists during the year that were not independently verified as being directly related to their work.
In addition, at least seven journalists have disappeared under suspicious circumstances since 2005, according to CPJ. They include Mauricio Estrada Zamora, a crime reporter for the daily La Opinion de Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan who was last seen in February 2008. Separately, at least two threatened journalists, Grupo Reforma owner Alejandro Junco de la Vega and Ciudad Juarez journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto, sought safety in the United States during the year. Self-censorship, which has increased in recent years, continued to be the norm in 2008. Several press freedom organizations have noted that almost no Mexican media investigate the important issues of drug trafficking and organized crime.Media in the largest cities present a greater diversity of perspectives than those in smaller towns and rural areas. An estimated 300 independently owned newspapers are in operation. Television remains in the hands of a duopoly (Televisa and TV Azteca) that has dominated Mexican broadcasting since the authoritarian era. Approximately 1,400 local and regional private radio stations operate alongside a number of state-run stations. There were complaints that local and state governments used advertising to punish media critics and reward allies. The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) highlighted an ad boycott against the daily A.M. by the state government in Leon Guanajuato, where President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party is in power. Critical academics and journalists have also charged that the federal government bows to broadcaster pressures to maintain the concentrated commercial ownership structure and fails to strengthen community, public, and educational media. The executive branch granted AM stations FM frequencies last fall without a concession process, replicating the existing AM ownership concentration on the FM dial, and Congress took no action to reform the broadcast ownership structure despite a 2007 Supreme Court decision to reverse key components of a broadcasting law that would have strengthened concentration even more. Meanwhile, the television duopoly used news content in an attempt to pressure the Supreme Court into striking down a federal electoral reform that set aside airtime for political candidates. The government does not restrict access to the internet, which was used by 24.9 percent of the population in 2008.