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)
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Media freedom declined in 2009 as it became significantly more dangerous to practice journalism in Mexico. Reporters became direct targets of drug traffickers, were harassed by state security forces, and faced local officials who were determined to silence independent scrutiny of their work. Freedom of expression is enshrined in Articles 6 and 7 of the constitution, and journalists attempt to be more critical than they were during the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ended in 2000. However, conditions for reporting have deteriorated considerably since then, criminal defamation and insult laws remain in place, and reform of the concentrated broadcast sector is stalled.
The federal criminal defamation law was eliminated in 2007, but civil insult laws remain on the books, as do criminal defamation statutes in 17 states. During 2009, rights organizations reported several cases of harassing lawsuits, mostly by state and local officials but in one instance by a large company and in another by a federal judge. Citizens’ right to public information was affirmed in 2007 through an amendment to Article 6 of the constitution. The amendment stated that all levels of government would be required to make their information public, but that information can be temporarily withheld if it is in the public interest to do so and the practice is regulated by law.
Violence has become the preeminent threat to media freedom in Mexico. According to the New York–based Committee to Protect Journalists, eight journalists were killed in 2009, a new record. Local press freedom organizations recorded even higher statistics. In addition, another journalist disappeared during 2009, for a total of nine since 2003. Scores of Mexican journalists have died violently since 2000, and these cases are rarely resolved.
Despite an alarming increase in attacks on journalists, authorities accused reporters of aiding drug traffickers and undermined proposals for greater media protections. The National Human Rights Commission told state, federal, and military prosecutors that their inaction on violence against the press created a climate of “institutionalized impunity.” The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Against Journalists was weak by design and produced no significant advances in investigations after several years of work. The Chamber of Deputies disbanded the Special Commission on Aggression Against Journalists after passing legislation to federalize investigations and prosecutions of crimes against journalists that lacked the statutory authority to make it effective. Under pressure, the chamber later reconstituted the commission with a chairwoman but no membership. State prosecutors were similarly ineffective during the year. In the few local-level cases that yielded convictions, the suspects were allegedly tortured or strong exculpatory evidence was overlooked. The Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (Cepet) and the Committee to Protect Journalists suggested that these cases entailed the “fabrication of guilty parties.” Meanwhile, both Cepet and the National Social Communication Center/Article 19 (Cencos) found that local political authorities and police were the top source of aggression against journalists. Domestic press organizations have notably increased their capacity to systematically document abuses and highlight the government’s acquiescence.
Cencos recorded 244 attacks on or intimidation of journalists and media outlets, while Cepet documented 140. Both cited an increase in the overall number of attacks compared with previous years. Drug gangs were the most violent aggressors. For example, in May gunmen broke into the home of La Opinion Milenio reporter Eliseo Barron Hernandez in Durango state and kidnapped him in front of his family. His body appeared the next day in a drainage canal. Suspects linked to the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, both drug trafficking groups, took responsibility for the killing. Similarly, after six months of denouncing threats, journalist Jose Bladimir Antuna Garcia of El Tiempo de Durango was kidnapped and found dead 10 hours later. His body carried a note that said, “This happened to me for giving information to the military and for writing what I shouldn’t. Take good care of your texts before publishing an article.”
Media installations were also attacked to intimidate or pressure outlets into publishing drug traffickers’ messages. One was attacked with a grenade in Sinaloa, another with gunfire in Coahuila, and a third by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Nuevo Leon. The severed heads of pigs were left at a fourth media office in Sonora. These attacks and threats fueled pervasive self-censorship in the professional press; citizens in northern Mexico often turned to the Twitter microblogging service and other social media to exchange information about gun battles. Drug-related violence against the press occurred along the northern border and in the states of Durango, Guerrero, and Quintana Roo, but other attacks occurred throughout the country, and as noted above, the most frequent aggressors were local and state-level government officials or their security forces. Cencos identified nine high-risk states, but 28 of 31 states and the Federal District registered numerous attacks or threats. The most cases occurred in Oaxaca and Veracruz, and were due to critical coverage of local officials and elections. According to Cepet, “entire zones exist with constant risk of death for being a journalist,” and criminal groups “dispute with authorities the right to demand silence and impose an agenda.”
There are numerous privately owned newspapers, and diversity is fairly broad in the urban print media. However, private broadcast ownership is highly concentrated, and television news coverage is driven by particular corporate interests. Advertising is occasionally used to influence editorial content. The head of the National Lottery reportedly tried to secure a newspaper’s support for his preferred gubernatorial candidate by buying ads, state officials in Guanajuato continued to pressure newspapers by withholding ads, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which Proceso magazine alleged that it was unfairly barred from receiving state advertising.Approximately 26 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2009. While content is not restricted, internet service is costly and the market is not well diversified. Proposals to open the industry to competition and strengthen noncommercial media remained stalled in part because politicians reportedly feared reprisals from large media corporations.