Tragic month for Mexico’s media
The murders of Roberto Toledo and Lourdes Maldonado have brought the number of journalists killed in Mexico in the past month to four. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) sounds the alarm and calls on the Mexican authorities to reinforce the mechanisms for protecting journalists and to end the chronic impunity for crimes of violence against media personnel.
A 55-year-old journalist who had worked for the Monitor Michoacán news website for the past four years, Roberto Toledo became the fourth media professional to be murdered this year in Mexico when he was gunned down in Zitácuaro, a city in the central state of Michoacán, on 31 January.
“With four deaths in less than a month, we are appalled by the level of violence to which the Mexican media are subjected without any firm condemnation of these murders by the authorities or new measures to reinforce protection of the media,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the director of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “Urgent measures are needed. How many more journalists will have to die before the Mexican authorities address this problem.”
Threatened media outlet
Monitor Michoacán is an outspoken news site that often denounces corruption within the Michoacán state government and the high level of violence in the state. When three individuals knocked on the media outlet’s door on 31 January, it was Toledo who opened. They immediately opened fire and then left. Toledo succumbed to his gunshot injuries in the ambulance taking him to hospital.
Editor Armando Linares told RSF that the media outlet was targeted, not the individual journalist. “Anyone who opened the door would have been killed,” he said. This view is reinforced by the fact that, for the past two years, Toledo had mostly worked as a photographer and rarely wrote by-lined stories. “He gathered information, and took photos and videos,” Arenas said. “To avoid problems, he didn’t want put his name to the stories he wrote, so I signed them.”
After the website’s management received anonymous threatening phone calls a few months ago, its lawyer submitted a request for protection to the interior ministry, which is in charge of the federal mechanism for protecting journalists. But, according to Arenas, the federal authorities showed no sign of having received or processed the request.
Shortly after Toledo’s murder, two placards were found near the scene with strange messages threatening Monitor Michoacán’s lawyers. They were signed by the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, the region’s most influential drug cartel.
After condemning Toledo’s murder in a tweet, presidential spokesman Jesús Ramírez went on to claim in a subsequent tweet that Toledo worked as an assistant with a law firm, not as a journalist. This was disputed by the Aristegui Noticias news website, which reported that a search of stories posted on the Monitor Michoacán website from July 2021 to 31 January 2022 had yielded two by-lined stories by Toledo, one about favouritism within the local police.
Toledo’s murder came just eight days after freelance journalist Lourdes Maldonado López was gunned down in cold blood on 23 January as she was parking her car outside her home in Tijuana, the big border city in the northwestern state of Baja California. She was shot by two individuals who arrived in a taxi and picked up their spent bullet casings before leaving.
An experienced and very outspoken journalist committed to combatting violence and corruption, Maldonado was the founder and host of Brebaje con Lourdes Maldonado, a local news programme on Facebook. She had worked in the past for such media outlets as the Canal de Noticias de Rosarito and the Televisa TV channel.
Maldonado had been getting protection from the Baja California state protection mechanism for more than a year. Under measures revised in October 2021, police patrol cars kept a watch on her home and she had been given a “panic button,” which she kept at home instead of installing on her mobile phone because she did not trust the local authorities. She had not requested protection from the federal mechanism.
For nearly nine years, she had been at odds with Jaime Bonilla, a businessman and local politician who was Baja California’s governor from 2019 to 2021, and she had just won a lawsuit against Primer Sistema de Noticias (PSN), a local media consortium owned by Bonilla from which she had been fired in an irregular fashion. A few days before her death, she announced that she had finally won her legal battle with PSN. At one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily press conferences in 2019, she said she feared for her life in connection with this case and demanded justice.
Maldonado is the second Baja California journalist to be murdered this year, following Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, a photo-journalist gunned down outside his home in Tijuana on 17 January. Martínez’s death triggered protests in more than 40 cities throughout Mexico and many statements of support on social media (under the hashtags #NiSilencionNiOlvido, #PeriodismoEnRiesgo and #NoseMataLaVerdad). Such a show of solidarity had been unprecedented since Javier Valdez’s murder in 2017.
Baja California’s new governor, Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmedo, has announced the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the murders of both Maldonado and Martínez.
The first journalist to be murdered this year in Mexico was José Luis Gamboa Arenas, who was found stabbed to death in the east coast city of Veracruz on 10 January. According to RSF’s annual round-up, at least seven journalists were murdered in Mexico in 2021, making it the world’s deadliest country for the media. At least 28 journalists have been killed in connection with their reporting since López Obrador became president in December 2018.
To address this problem, RSF is conducting a major survey of mechanisms for protecting journalists in Mexico and three other Latin American countries – Brazil, Colombia and Honduras. RSF hopes to publish the survey’s detailed conclusions and recommendations by the end of February.
Mexico is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.