Mexico’s presidential candidates must prioritise combatting violence against journalists and impunity

As Mexico has been the world’s deadliest country for journalists since 2017, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the presidential candidates who have just been named by its two main political coalitions to make protecting media personnel a priority in their programmes.

Mexico now knows the identities of the two main candidates in next June’s elections for a six-year term as president. On 3 September, Senator Xóchitl Gálvez was named as the candidate of the “Frente Amplio,” the right-wing opposition coalition. Former Mexico City major Claudia Sheinbaum (photo) is the candidate of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the left-wing party that has ruled since 2018. The Citizen Movement, a centrist party, has not yet decided whether it will present its own candidate, or join one of the two coalitions.

RSF urges the two candidates, who have not yet spoken publicly about the issue of violence against media professionals, to address this huge problem, which has grown steadily for the past 20 years. Last year was the deadliest yet, with a total of 11 journalists killed in connection with their work.

“Mexico cannot accept continuing to be the deadliest country for journalists year after year. Press freedom, the right to report the news, and combatting impunity must be at the heart of the candidates’ election campaigns and programmes. Violence against the media is not just a problem affecting journalists’ physical safety and the lives of their families. All of society is impacted when the right to be informed by a free press is violated.

Artur Romeu
Director of RSF’s Latin America bureau

A total of 149 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, according to RSF’s Press Freedom Barometer, while there has been so sign of life from another 30 journalists since they were reported missing. More journalists have been murdered in Mexico than in any other country since 2017, the year that it overtook countries at war such as Syria. Since then, 14% of all the journalists killed worldwide have been killed in Mexico.

There has been no improvement under the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO). On the contrary, Mexico has consolidated its appalling position as the world’s deadliest country for journalists, with 37 killed and six reported missing since December 2018.

The latest victim was Nelson Matus, the founder and editor of the Lo Real de Guerrero news website, who was gunned down in the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco, in Guerrero state, on 15 July, one week after the body of Luis Martín Sánchez, a reporter for the leading national daily La Jornada, was found bearing the signs of torture in the western state of Nayarit.

Violence against journalists has grown steadily in the regions where the cartels have the biggest presence. But such violence has also emerged and become commonplace in the capital, Mexico City, which had previously been spared. Last December, Imagen Televisión news anchor Ciro Gómez Leyva narrowly survived a shooting attack in the capital that was clearly designed to kill him.

The safety of journalists is now seriously threatened in more and more regions, where journalists must accept that their silence is the price for staying alive. They are sometimes even forced to leave their homes and hometowns for the sake of their safety and that of their families.

Despite this terrifying reality, López Obrador has failed to carry out the reforms and the  measures needed to stem the spiral of violence against the media. Although a federal body offering special protection to journalists was set up in 2012 and although a prosecutor’s office specialising in attacks on freedom of expression was created two years before that, 97% of the crimes of violence against journalists remain unpunished in Mexico, according to the data that RSF has been gathering for the past 20 years.

“Vilification of journalists and the media is now widespread in Mexico and state agents are often directly responsible. They amplify a climate of violence that has been well established for years. We call on the candidates vying for the presidency to prioritise combatting violence against media professionals in their programmes and, in particular,  to take up the two priority challenges –protecting journalists and combatting impunity for crimes of violence against them.

Balbina Flores
RSF’s Mexico representative

RSF sounds the alarm and calls on civil society and the public to ensure that the candidates address the following questions during the elections:

  • What policies are proposed and what actions will be undertaken to protect journalists?

  • What are their main undertakings as regards combatting the almost total impunity in cases of murders of journalists?

  • What measures will be taken to stop the vilification of the media and to recognise their work as important for a democratic society?

  • What undertakings will be given to safeguard the public’s right to news and information?
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