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Attorney General endorses self-censorship by media in context of increasing danger; CENCOS urges government action

(CENCOS/IFEX) - The following is a 31 July 2007 CENCOS press release:

Self-censorship a "good strategy" for media to protect themselves, says Attorney General

Mexico City, 31 July 2007 - In the context of insufficient government protection for journalists, the Attorney General of Mexico, Eduardo Medina Mora, has said that he considers it a "good strategy" for journalists working on stories about organized crime not to sign their names to their reports, in order to protect themselves against possible retaliation.

The Attorney General is apparently forgetting that the Judiciary has a constitutional responsibility to guarantee citizens the rights to freedom of expression and to inform and be informed.

In effect, the Mexican state is promoting the techniques of self-censorship that media outlets have been obliged to implement in order to protect the lives of their journalists.

In Sonora state, the newspaper "Cambio" decided to shut down temporarily, in light of repeated grenade attacks against its facilities.

Other media outlets have resorted to self-censorship, altering their editorial line to the detriment of their reading public. These include the newspapers "El Norte" and "Milenio", which decided not to attribute authorship to reports on drug-trafficking, and to refrain from investigating violent incidents beyond the information provided by officials. The same approach has been taken by the newspapers "El Imparcial" in Hermosillo, and "El Mañana" in Nuevo Laredo, as well as by the television station Televisa Monterray.

Similarly, the weekly "Proceso" announced to its readers in its 4 March issue that: "Drug cartels continue to impose their law - the law of blood - throughout the country, despite optimistic official proclamations about the success of combined police-military operations. Given these circumstances, 'Proceso' will, from this issue forward, follow a policy to protect its reporters by not attributing authorship to reports on drug-trafficking. Our publishing house will assume responsibility for the content and truthfulness of these reports."

For its part, the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos) revealed in a report that, in the last six years, 33 journalists have been killed and six disappeared, apparently for reporting on drug-trafficking.

In response, all the Attorney General has to offer is its support for the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra Periodistas), "since legal action is key to combating crime".

Within the framework of international standards and treaties, the government is obliged to act to protect these fundamental rights, all the more so considering Mexico has endorsed various international human rights instruments, such as the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in 1981, and it has accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights since 1998.

These commitments oblige the government to exercise all its powers to defend the full and free exercise of all human rights. Among the rights enshrined in the ACHR is freedom of expression, covered by Article 13, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice."

Article 133 of the Mexican Constitution, in turn, asserts the responsibility of the government to live up to all the commitments contained in treaties to which it is signatory.

CENCOS, as a civil society organization concerned for the right to freedom of expression, finds it very unfortunate that the Attorney General has made such a declaration. CENSOS urges the government instead to take concrete actions to protect journalists. It is not enough simply to recognize their work and to endorse their taking recourse to self-censorship.

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