Outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto, who will stand down in November, failed to rein in Mexico’s pervasive corruption during his six-year term, in which at least 39 journalists have been murdered and more than a thousand have been attacked – an all-time record – and press freedom has steadily declined.
With 11 journalists murdered in 2017 (and five already this year), Mexico is for the second year running the world’s second deadliest country for the media, only just behind Syria, a country at war, where 12 were killed in 2017, and now only surpassed by Afghanistan, also a country at war, where 11 journalists have so far been killed this year.
The failure to address this problem places a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of Mexico’s next president and cabinet.
Press freedom ignored during the campaign
Human rights and, in particular, the freedom to inform, were only briefly raised during public debates by the political parties involved in the election. Worse still, the programmes of the leading candidates include no concrete measures for addressing this fundamental issue although the candidates had promised RSF that they would make press freedom and security a priority.
On 25 March, RSF’s regional representatives handed Ricardo Anaya, the Mexico al Frente alliance’s presidential candidate, a series of recommendations that included new procedures for investigating crimes of violence against journalists, and reinforcement of the mechanism for protecting threatened journalists by means of more frequent and effective monitoring and inclusion of the victims’ psychological dimension.
On 28 May, RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Article 19 Mexico jointly expressed their concerns to the campaign staff of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate of the Juntos Haremos Historia alliance, and submitted the same recommendations. However, none of these recommendations was mentioned during the campaign.
“We deplore the lack of political will on the part the presidential candidates who, despite declaring their good intentions, have given no concrete undertaking to effectively combat the spiral of violence and impunity for crimes against journalists,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“The candidates are nonetheless aware of the urgency of implementing a full and effective policy for protecting journalists and preventing the risks to which they are exposed, as we recommend. Mexico’s next president will have this heavy responsibility and will need to make this policy a major element of the administration’s programme if the deadly trend is to be reversed.”
The need for reform is indeed urgent. Outside of election periods, journalists are constantly subjected to threats and violence in Mexico. Covering stories linked to organized crime and violence are getting more and more dangerous, especially at the local level.
RSF recommendations for combatting violence and impunity
The next president must firstly reinforce the federal mechanism for protecting journalists, which badly needs more resources. It needs procedures for handling the most urgent cases, online attacks, and journalists who have had to relocate. It needs to improve risk evaluation and monitoring of the protection provided to individual journalists. And it needs to provide more information about its results, and to improve coordination with the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims (CEAV).
The next administration must also prioritize combatting impunity for crimes of violence against journalists. Since 2000, 90% of these crimes have gone unpunished, according to the figures kept by Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH).
Judicial investigations, both federal and local, rarely identify those behind these crimes, creating a vicious circle and widespread mistrust of officialdom among journalists. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) needs more funding and human resources to enhance its investigative capacity and to be able to solve more crimes.
These priorities are shared by the UN and OAS special rapporteurs for freedom of expression, David Kaye and Edison Lanza, who issued a detailed report on freedom of opinion and expression in Mexico on 11 June deploring the fact that impunity is still the general rule and that the mechanisms for protecting journalists are largely ineffective for preventing attacks against them.
The report was based on the visit that the two rapporteurs made to Mexico from 27 November to 2 December 2017, when RSF drew their attention to the problem of Mexican journalists being driven into internal exile by death threats. This is a growing problem that the future administration will also have to address.
Mexico is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.