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President Calderón pledges to push for legal reforms and protection to safeguard press freedom

(IAPA/IFEX) - Mexico City, Mexico, September 22, 2010 - Mexico's President Felipe Calderón announced today at a working session with an international delegation from the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) his commitment to set press freedom on the national agenda, redouble efforts to ensure the safety of reporters and push for legal reform making crimes against journalists offenses under federal law.

During a 90-minute meeting in the Los Pinos presidential residence, the two press organizations expressed their concern at the increase in journalists' murders and the level of impunity surrounding these crimes. Calderón said that "the biggest threat to freedom of expression does not come from the government, which has a deep dedication to democracy and tolerance, but rather from organized crime."

Calderón also announced that a centralized process, with civil society participation, will soon be in place to evaluate risks and recommend safety measures. In a second hour-and-a-half meeting with government officials details of the plan were offered by Special Prosecutor for Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression Gustavo Salas, who said that the first phase of the plan could be implemented by the beginning of October.

The delegation, headed by IAPA Vice President Gonzalo Marroquín and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, requested that crimes against journalists be made federal offenses, penalties stiffened, statutes of limitations eliminated, an effective system of protection for media and reporters with the support of civil society created, the work of the Special Prosecutor's Office strengthened, and new rules for security forces, which have to date hampered the work of the press, established.

Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, declared, "We came to Mexico to express our solidarity with the government, the Mexican people and the country's media and journalists so that a common front can be erected against the plague of violence and, in this way, the fundamental right of each citizen to know can be protected."

Calderón pledged to push for the federalization of crimes against journalists, a reform proposal sent by the Executive branch to Congress in 2008 in response to repeated requests drafted at IAPA meetings by Mexican editors and publishers, but which to date has remained stalled. The president ordered Interior Minister José Francisco Blake Mora to follow up on this issue with Mexican Senate committees. He also demonstrated a willingness to support legal reforms that would bring about stiffer penalties for crimes against journalists and to work for the elimination of any statutes of limitations.

Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, president of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal and chairman of the IAPA's Impunity Committee, thanked President Calderón and told him that several news media in Mexico are working to set up a task force to promote higher journalistic standards, more training, independent professional monitoring of attacks upon reporters and ad campaigns to encourage the reporting and prevention of drug abuse.

At the special request of the IAPA, Calderón agreed to raise the issue of journalists' safety and the importance of press freedom at multinational meetings with heads of state in the Americas and supra-governmental agencies.

The CPJ's Simon expressed satisfaction at the fact that "President Calderón made clear his deeply-rooted commitment to freedom of the press, taking an hour and a half of his time with our delegation to openly discuss the existing challenges, and pledging a firm response."

On one specific issue, Calderón commented that a perpetrator had been arrested in the case of journalist Armando Rodríguez of the Diario de Juárez, murdered in November 2008. Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez confirmed that the arrest made it possible to determine that the motive for the murder was tied to the victim's work as a reporter, and that investigations are ongoing.

Calderón also gave his personal word to review non-compliance by the federal government, Baja California and Chihuahua of resolutions issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, petitioned by the IAPA, regarding the murders of Héctor Félix Miranda and Víctor Manuel Oropeza in 1988 and 1991, respectively.

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Other activities organized jointly by the IAPA and CPJ in Mexico include a forum titled "Mexico under Siege from Organized Crime", to be held September 23rd at the Casa Lamm Cultural Center in Mexico City.

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