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Public officials behind crimes against journalists

Mexico is the deadliest country in the Americas for journalists trying to do their job. Organised crime is often perceived as being predominantly behind attacks on the press, but a new report by ARTICLE 19 and the National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS) points to public officials as the main perpetrators. And there is a movement to challenge this culture of impunity with newspaper editors and journalists joining forces to urge the government to take action, reports the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS recorded 244 cases of attacks and intimidation against journalists and media workers in 2009. Within that number of attacks, 11 journalists were assassinated and one more has disappeared. More than 65 percent of assaults on press freedom came from political authorities or individuals linked to political parties, compared to six percent from criminal gangs, with the Mexican army cited in 26 abuses.

The report examines the lack of political will to deal with the issue, along with severe corruption. Governments at all levels and security services are failing to protect media workers, which leads to a culture of impunity, allowing attacks on the press being carried out to eliminate unwanted reporting or dissident voices.

In a separate statement, ARTICLE 19 called on Gustavo Salas Chávez, the newly appointed Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against the Media, to be independent, impartial and to protect the rights of victims and avoid re-victimisation. The previous prosecutor was widely seen as ineffective at controlling attacks on the press and claimed that the murders of journalists were not work-related. As well, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against the Media (FEADP), established in 2006, has lacked the political will to investigate crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.

In addition, the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) recorded 183 attacks on journalists and 19 attacks on media in 2009, a 10 percent increase from the year before. According to CEPET's annual report, the attacks include threats, arbitrary detention or intimidation, injuries and disappearances. CEPET records the murders of 13 journalists, although not all were linked to their work. CEPET's research concurs that most attacks are connected to the state, and most take place with impunity.

A forum held last month by IAPA, in Durango, Mexico, brought together newspaper editors and publishers from the Mexican states of Durango, Coahuila, Sinaloa and Sonora, to discuss the self-censorship that is routine as a result of violent reprisals from organised crime. It called on federal and state authorities to make crimes against journalists a federal offense and for the creation of a united front among police, public prosecutors' offices and the army, to give journalists timely and transparent access to information about acts of violence.