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Mexico: the press under threat

In Mexico, the job of investigative journalist has become dangerous. Murders and pressures from the powers that be are making the specialist press nervous. Español

Photo: Nueva Sociedad. All rights reserved.

This article is published as part of the partnership between Nueva Sociedad and DemocraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here

In a structural situation where greater restrictions on freedom of expression can be seen in daily life, the journalistic profession in Mexico is right now going through its most sordid time. Given various phenomena in recent times, it can be said that journalism is immersed in the following phenomena:

-         Co-optation, harassment and direct violence perpetrated by public officials and gangs (almost always associated with each other);

-         Job insecurity caused by a news industry dependent not on its audiences but on public money, and whose editorial policies expose journalists to risks of violence and political and economic manipulation;

-         Ideological, political or pragmatic subjugation to officials or to powers that be, whose information is processed and published industrially without specific deontological standards;

-         An accelerated loss of reputation in society (not always undeserved).

The journalistic profession in Mexico is right now going through its most sordid time.

All these factors, which inhibit the practice and flourishing of specialist journalism, constitute a set of direct or indirect symptoms of what, in analysing the Latin American media, Ibero-American University of Mexico City theorist Manuel Alejandro Guerrero calls, with enviable precision. the 'captured liberal media system'. In this system, "clientelism inserts [the media] directly into the political process by allowing its owners to associate with particular political groups, to use their own organisations to intervene in politics ... and to use their relationships to reduce or avoid the inconvenient effects of regulation. In addition, clientelism contributes to hampering the development of professional information practices. "

On the subject of widespread violence against journalists in the country (dating to about 2000), he wrote just a decade ago: "In the period between 2000 and August 2007, 38 colleagues died violently or suffered forced disappearance. Of these, 33 succumbed to shots or stabbing, were poisoned, ran over, burned or disappeared.

At the end of last April, in a thorough and useful summary, Azam Ahmed pointed out from The New York Times that "Mexico is one of the worst countries in the world to be a journalist today. At least 104 journalists have been killed in this country since 2000, while 25 others have disappeared, presumably killed. In the list of the deadliest places in the world to be a reporter, Mexico falls between the war-ravaged nation of Afghanistan and the failed state of Somalia. Last year, 11 Mexican journalists were killed, the country's highest figure this century. "

In the period between 2000 and August 2007, 38 colleagues died violently or suffered forced disappearance.

Although it is not just a matter of increasingly sinister figures, rankings denoting the rampant devastation, or predictable and chilling narratives of blood, silence, pain, and death, the above clearly reflects this complex atmosphere in which certain groups of political, public, economic and criminal powers prevent the public's right to information, leaving  investigative journalists defenceless. As an example, it can be mentioned that since the beginning of the last decade, violence against proponents of investigative journalism has grown exponentially throughout the country - which contrasts with its truly limited resonance within society.

Dozens of cases include investigative reporters Alfredo Jiménez Mota (kidnapping, enforced disappearance and murder), Rafael Ortiz Martínez (forced disappearance), Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco (murder), Lydia Cacho (threats, arbitrary detention and relentless harassment) , Alejandro Martínez (murder), Ana Lilia Pérez (threats, harassment and intimidation), Anabel Hernández (threats and intimidation) and the most recent of Miroslava Breach (murder), as well as the partial silencing of the prestigious Journalist Carmen Aristegui and her team (indefinite cancellation of their news program on MVS Radio, after the sacking of their journalists), following President Enrique Peña Nieto's White House revelation.

Since the beginning of the last decade, violence against proponents of investigative journalism has grown exponentially throughout the country.

Now, has all this decimated journalists' professional momentum in their investigation of cases of corruption, abuse of authority and violation of human rights? Does it prevent investigative journalism in Mexico? Fortunately not. Or at least not in the whole country. Given the painful panorama, this is great news.

However, there are identifiable phenomena worthy of attention in order to sketch a truthful panorama and seek solutions at the root:

  1. Never in its history has Mexico had the number of excellent investigative journalists it does today. However, this speciality is absolutely removed from the traditional news media. The bulk of the best in-depth journalistic stories - I do not mean leaks, curatorial content or on-trend hits - can be found mostly in book, video or digital media format, created by freelancers.
  2. Most news organisations' extreme and toxic financial dependence on the public treasury - Fundar has documented it in an incontrovertible fashion - hinders independent and truthful journalism, and even more so for investigation.
  3. More and more media and journalists are co-opted by powers that be (politicians, high-level civil servants, business groups or criminal organisations). This, combined with extreme violence, produces a paralysis of journalism in general - and even more so for specialist journalism.
  4. In broad segments of the journalistic sector there is a denial of the state of affairs. Many do not appreciate that we, the journalists, have also contributed to our falling reputation within society and predictable anger expressed to the press through social networks.
  5. A relevant problem is the precarious tendency towards specialisation, justified by reductive and petty expressions. In newsrooms, one often hears phrases like the following: "Why would I train, if in Mexico there is no freedom of expression", "I work in the media, and those above me decide, not me", "The people don't want anything more than crime reporting"," If the authorities say so, it's their responsibility and not mine that it's published","Journalism is a trade, not a profession, and that's why it's learned on the streets, not at university", "That guy was killed because he was involved" or "Human rights are like a fashion, you have to publish everything, whatever it is, so people get it".

Although the Mexican journalistic panorama shows a generalised degree of political, economic and ideological manipulation, and sufficient risks of violence to destabilise the democratic order itself, it also shows unquestionable expressions of persistence - sometimes even obstinacy - quality and professional ethics which leave us with important lessons. One of them is that most of these expressions of socially responsible journalism are possible thanks to concerted citizen action through civil society organisations, cooperation and international organisations.

Although the Mexican journalistic panorama shows a generalised degree of political, economic and ideological manipulation, and sufficient risks of violence to destabilise the democratic order itself, it also shows unquestionable expressions of persistence.

We should not ignore this moral: when the State not only disregards its responsibility to guarantee freedom of expression and the right to information, but is also unable to face the impunity that affects the exercise of these human rights and news companies obsess about profitability, there are those who consider more than ever that it is their responsibility to sustain and encourage good journalism, giving journalists the possibilities and skills to use it time and again when faced with (almost) anything.

About the author

Marco Lara Klahr es periodista judicial, académico y activista mexicano con casi 35 años de ex­periencia. Es reportero freelance y dirige el Proyecto de Medios y Acceso a la Información del Instituto de Justicia Procesal Penal. 

Marco Lara Klahr is a Mexican judicial, academic and activist journalist with almost 35 years of experience. He is a freelance reporter and directs the Media and Access to Information Project of the Institute of Criminal Procedural Justice.


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