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Journalists, media outlets come under pressure after criticising public officials

(CEPET/IFEX) - Edilia Contreras Álvarez and Enrique Romero Vara, hosts respectively of the "Voz Informativa" and "Sin censura" radio programmes in Palenque, Chiapas, southeastern Mexico, have said that the owners of the media outlets for which they work are being pressured by a local congressional deputy, Juan Carlos López Fernández, with the objective of censoring them and having them taken off the air.

On 1 June 2009, Contreras Álvarez, who is also a correspondent for the dailies "Milenio" and "Noticias Voz e Imagen de Chiapas", published an article in both newspapers in which she covered a story about the dissatisfaction of 64 Palenque sanitation workers who were calling on the city administrator, Ivonne López Fernández, to step down from her position, accusing her of influence trafficking and abuse of power. Ivonne López Fernández is congressional deputy Juan Carlos López Fernández's sister.

Contreras Álvarez then also covered the information about the congressional deputy's sister on her radio programme and opened the lines to listeners to comment. Later, she was at a café with two of her colleagues when the congressional deputy, who is also running for a seat in the federal congress, came in. When López Fernández saw her, he began to criticise her regarding the information aired on her radio programme. "He told me that I needed to remember that he is in a position of power, that I should decide whether I want him as a friend or an enemy and that I would have to deal with the consequences of my choice. At first, he just addressed me, but then he also threatened my colleagues," Contreras Álvarez said.

The next day, the reporter said that Francisco Feria Jiménez, the owner of 95.5 FM, which broadcasts her programme, told her that she would no longer be hosting the show because López Fernández was very angry with her. Contreras Álvarez said, "I negotiated with him and we spoke about the obligation that we have to our listeners. Finally, he said that I could stay but only on the condition that I was not to say anything that would bother the congressional candidate. He also said I was not to mention the other candidates either."

Despite their agreement, however, on 27 June, Feria Jiménez left a message on her mobile telephone saying that she could not continue working for the radio station until certain arrangements could be made. According to Contreras Álvarez, afterwards, when she spoke to the station owner in person, he told her that he could not do anything, that López Fernández did not want her to continue, that he was very upset about what had been said about his sister, and that the journalist could return after the elections if López Fernández failed to win.

Subsequently, on 29 June, Romero Vara, the host of the "Sin Censura" programme aired on 103.1 FM, opened his show to the Chiapas Journalists' Federation (Federación de Periodistas Chiapanecos) delegate in Palenque, who then publicised the news of Contreras Álvarez's dismissal. A number of listeners, including several congressional candidates from other parties, then called in to condemn the actions against Contreras Álvarez.

The following day, Romero Vara was told by the owner of 103.1 FM, Ismael Rodríguez Damas, that López Fernández was displeased with the airing of the information about Contreras Álvarez. Romero Vara was then told that, in future, he was to refrain from airing live telephone calls to the programme as well as avoid reading messages on air that dealt with López Fernández or publicising any "information or commentary that could be considered negative."

Romero Vara responded that his programme is named "Sin Censura" ("Uncensored") and that, since they were trying to censor him and his audience, the conditions for him to continue working were not in place such that he preferred not to air his programme until the situation changes.

Romero Vara said that the majority of the radio stations in the area operate without legal accreditation and that López Fernández, who has the support of Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines, has threatened to close them down if they fail to carry out his demands. López Fernández belongs to the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD).

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