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CAPSULE REPORT: ARTICLE 19 report says 2006 worst year for media, with threats from authorities, violent groups, drug cartels

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 30 May 2007 ARTICLE 19 press release:

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN MEXICO

2006 has been the worst year on record for the media in Mexico. Federal and state authorities, violent groups, and drug cartels have colluded to make Mexican journalism one of the most dangerous media occupations in the world, said ARTICLE 19, CENCOS, Fundacion Manual Buendia, and the SNRP today as they launched 2006 Report, the annual assessment of press freedom in Mexico.

"Emerging trends regarding the escalation of violence in Mexico have sadly been confirmed in 2006, along with the seemingly powerlessness of the authorities and an overall climate of impunity. How many more murders, attacks, intimidations, and disappearances have to take place before the government puts in place effective investigatory and judicial response, and meet its international obligation to protect human rights?" asked Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"The state is failing the Mexican journalists and the Mexican Media and is therefore failing the entire population. The intimidation of journalists, particularly through murder and physical attacks, limits the freedom of expression not only of journalists but of all citizens. Experience across the world had demonstrated that the media has a central role to play in the fight against organized crime. Journalists are killed because of what they investigate, because of what they report to the public, because of what they uncover, because of their courage and dedication to the truth and the communities they serve.

"The Mexican government cannot continue to hide its ineffectiveness behind the existence of global drug cartels and drug trade. State authorities remain the main perpetrator of offences and violence against journalists. Bringing them to justice will constitute one major step towards tackling the spiral of violence and the climate of impunity, and will send the right signal to ALL perpetrators."

Some of the report's main findings include:
- Escalation of violence: 2006 saw an escalation of violence against media workers, with a total of 131 cases reported (against 93 in 2005 and 76 in 2001). Among the various cases reported, 27% were threats and acts of intimidation, 24% were physical attacks, 15% damages to property, 8% detentions, and 7% murders.
- Murders: The most worrying figures concern the murders of 10 journalists, the highest figure of the last 15 years. From 2001 to 2003, 7 journalists were murdered. From 2004 to 2006, 20 were murdered, including 10 in 2006, thus being the highest figure in the last 15 years.
- On location: 33% of the cases reported occurred because or when journalists were on location covering the news; 41% were linked to the contents an article or broadcasting; 13% for unknown causes; 2% linked to drug trafficking.
- State: The state authorities continue to be one of the main alleged perpetrators behind the cases (41% of all cases recorded). These include: the police (24%), government employees (12%), police officials (3%) and government institutions (2%).
- "New" perpetrators: The most worrying trend is the emergence of new perpetrators, including various armed and violent groups involved in social conflicts - such as the Popular Assembly of Oaxaca - and drug cartels. The former accounted for 15% of the total number of offences in 2006 (19 cases in total, as opposed to 5 in 2005); while drug cartels were allegedly responsible for 11% of the attacks in 2006 (14 cases).
- Oaxaca: The Federal District (Mexico City) is no longer the Mexican state with the highest number of cases, replaced by the state of Oaxaca where 30% of all cases occurred. It is followed by the Federal District (15%), Chiapas (8%) and Guerrero (7%). 60% of the cases are found in only 4 states.
- Impunity: Few have been brought to justice so far for these crimes and an overall climate of impunity prevails.
- One timid step forward: In February 2006, the Federal government established a special unit within the Federal Prosecutor's Office which is responsible for investigating the killings of journalists. This Unit has a strong mandate and powers which, with the required political will, could see meaningful investigations initiated and strong messages against impunity delivered to both state authorities and those responsible for the crimes. As of February 2007, 108 cases had been investigated but to date, none had been closed.
- Defamation: The federal chamber of deputies approved amendments to the criminal code on 18 April (already passed by the senate) recognising the right of journalists not to reveal their sources and decriminalising defamation. Early in 2007, the Senate Committee of Justice and Legislative Studies (Comisiones de Justicia y de Estudios Legislativos) endorsed the deputies position (dictamen) on this matter. But 31 states have criminal defamation on their books carrying average sentences of 2 to 4 years and exorbitant fines.
- Televisa Law: In March 2006, The Chambers passed the Federal Law on Radio and Television (commonly referred to as the Televisa Law) which raises serious concerns regarding the existence of a pluralistic and independent media, public interest and community broadcasting.

For a copy of the report, see: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/mexico-counting-the-costs.pdf

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.

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