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Journalists dismissed after denouncing unethical practices at newspaper

(CEPET/IFEX) - Journalists for the Oaxaca-based daily "Despertar" say that they were dismissed after revealing that the paper's general manager, Alfredo Martínez de Aguilar, put two of their colleagues in danger by acting in his own self interest. The incident occurred in Oaxaca, southern Mexico.

The journalists also accused the paper's directors of manipulating the information published in the paper.

On 20 September 2009, the general manager assigned reporters Carina García and Luis Cruz Hernández to cover a meeting of a farming cooperative in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán municipality.

Martínez de Aguilar, who is also a member of the cooperative, went to the meeting, accompanied by four armed individuals. He interrupted the meeting and threatened those in attendance. A complaint regarding the incident was subsequently filed with the Attorney General's Office.

Prior to the incident, "Despertar" had published some unfavourable articles about members of the cooperative, under reporter Juan Carlos Zavala's name. However, according to reporter Blanca Padilla García, the articles had been written by the paper's general manager. Moreover, the individuals who were named in the articles were not given the right to reply to the accusations.

The members of the cooperative were angered by the articles and on a subsequent occasion decided to go after the "Despertar" reporters. In that instance, the journalists wanted to leave the site because they were feeling threatened, but Martínez de Aguilar called them and ordered them to stay put.

When their colleagues found out what had happened, they demanded that Martínez de Aguilar provide some guarantees for their safety and show respect for their work. The general manager responded with insults and later took further disciplinary action.

According to Padilla, the general manager was very angry. He called Zavala a traitor, threatened him and warned him to be "careful".

The "Despertar" staff outlined these problems in a 6 October press release, which was sent to the media, a number of organisations and the paper's associates. According to other journalists, most of the paper's business associates are officials from the state government, which is led by Ulises Ruíz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Subsequently, on 14 October, García, Zavala and Padilla, along with another journalist, Francisco Ramírez, were fired from "Despertar". When Zavala went to the office to get his things, an officer from the banking, industrial and commercial police (Policía Auxiliar Bancaria, Industrial y Comercial), prevented him from entering the premises. When Zavala insisted that he should be allowed to enter, the officer pointed his gun at him.

According to information given to CEPET by Padilla, three other "Despertar" journalists also face being fired.

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