The program will start in Brazil and Mexico, in cooperation with the Mexican human rights NGO Propuesta Cívica and the RSF office for Latin America in Rio de Janeiro. The new “Defending Voices Program for the Safety of Journalists” aims to help create safe environments for journalists and combat impunity for crimes committed against media workers. The program is funded by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through Reporters Without Borders Germany.
“Brazil and Mexico are two of the most dangerous countries on the American continent for journalists. Every day, journalists face serious attacks ranging from threats to kidnappings and murder,” said Christian Mihr, executive director of RSF Germany. “The aim of the program is to improve the working environment and legal protection for journalists by strengthening independent media and vulnerable journalists and by putting an end to impunity for crimes committed against journalists.”
Brazil: Strengthening the media of marginalized groups
The PAJor project (Programa de Apoio ao Jornalismo) in Brazil aims to strengthen eight independent media (Amazônia Real, Rede Wayuri, Ação Comunitária Caranguejo Uçá, Marco Zero Conteúdo, Data_labe, Fala Roça, Alma Preta y Nós mulheres da periferia) that are distributed across four regions in the country (Amazonas, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo). The journalists working for these media are members of social groups that are generally ignored, marginalized and discriminated against by the country’s mass and hegemonic media. As such, they play a fundamental role in the creation of new spaces for debate, the construction of identities and reflection on experiences of discrimination.
Rede Wayuri is a network of 20 indigenous communicators from ten different ethnic groups. Their podcasts and audio bulletins are distributed to 750 indigenous communities in the Rio Negro as well as in the jungle. The investigative journalism agency Amazônia Real was created in 2013. The agency, which now has more than 40 collaborators in the nine states of the Amazonas region, was founded and is run by women. Alma Preta is a news agency that aims to cover the racial issues affecting areas on the outskirts of São Paulo, where most of the contributors live. It covers cases of racial discrimination, violence against the black population and racist structures in society. Data_labe is an organization for data and investigative journalism located in the da Maré favela, north of Rio de Janeiro. Narratives involving the inhabitants of Brazilian favelas are at the heart of its projects.
In the PAJor project journalists will receive training in institutional sustainability, protective measures and security. Events will also be organised to raise public awareness of the problems and threats journalists face. In addition, a network of journalists who work in similar contexts is to be established, so that they can share knowledge and create synergies for the consolidation of free and safe journalism in Brazil. The project is coordinated by RSF’s Latin America bureau in Rio de Janeiro.
These independent Brazilian media work in a highly insecure environment. The polarization of the political debate under President Jair Bolsonaro has led to repeated attacks against journalists in the form of threats, digital harassment, physical aggression and assassinations. The lack of institutional backing from major media organizations and the resulting lack of visibility has left the staff of these media outlets in a very vulnerable position.
"In the last decade, more than 40 journalists have been murdered in Brazil. What we see today is an environment increasingly hostile to the practice of journalism. Communicators are often threatened and harassed for carrying out their work, directly affected by an official government rhetoric that stigmatizes the profession,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “In this scenario, marked by the growing democratic instability that the country is experiencing, it is more important than ever to strengthen the work of media that operate in difficult contexts and have the advocacy of human rights and the environmental agenda at the heart of their editorial lines.”
Mexico: Fighting for justice for crimes against journalists
The “Press in Resistance” project in Mexico aims to reverse practices and regulatory frameworks that violate freedom of the press and seeks justice and compensation for the harm done to journalists and family members who are victims of human rights violations. This is to be achieved through discussions, reports, research and political work at the national and international levels. In addition, cases are to be brought before national and international courts, and journalists are to receive training in security and safety measures. The project is run by human rights NGO Propuesta Cívica in Mexico City.
In recent years Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for practicing journalism. Even though it is not at war, it is currently the world’s deadliest country for journalists. Impunity, government collusion with members of organized crime, failure to prosecute crimes and deficiencies in the administration of justice are among the many factors behind this trend. The situation is exacerbated by statements issued by public officials and high-level authorities that discredit and stigmatize journalistic work, thus increasing the vulnerability of journalists. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador makes frequent verbal attacks against journalists.
Propuesta Cívica is working on the cases of journalists Mauricio Estrada Zamora from Apatzingán, Michoacán (who disappeared in 2008), Ramon Ángeles Zalpa from Paracho, Michoacán (who disappeared in 2010) and Miroslava Breach from Chihuahua (murdered in 2017), as well as that of the daily El Mañana based in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, which has been attacked several times with firearms and hand grenades, and whose editorial director was murdered in 2004. So far, none of these crimes have been fully investigated. Well over 90 percent of the murders of journalists in Mexico go unpunished.
“The main challenge we face when seeking for justice for journalists and their families is impunity. There is no punishment for those responsible for committing violations or crimes against journalists - especially public officials at all levels, followed by members of organized crime,” said Sara Mendiola, executive director of Propuesta Cívica. “Mexico's public prosecutors' offices don’t do their job. One reason for this is that the officials who investigate the crimes against media workers lack the necessary qualifications and expertise. Another is that the limited resources allocated by the government are inadequate. And finally there is often a lack of political interest in investigating these crimes and prosecuting those responsible.”
Brazil is ranked 107th and Mexico 143rd out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF.