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Reporter killed; IFEX members sceptical of government's journalist protection programme

UNESCO

On 5 November, yet another journalist in Mexico was lost to the drug war. Carlos Alberto Guajardo Romero was killed while covering a shootout between the Mexican military and members of a drug cartel in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, report the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) and other IFEX members.

At the same time, the government has finally come round to announcing a strategy to protect journalists from death threats from common criminals, drug cartels and even government officials. IFEX members ARTICLE 19, Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have strongly denounced the programme as it stands - having been devised and run entirely by government officials who have little understanding of what it's like to be a journalist operating in a climate of endemic impunity.

Guajardo, a reporter with the local daily newspaper "Expreso Matamoros", was heading to Homeland Security to gather more information on the violence when his pickup was shot at more than 20 times, reports CPJ. National news reports said army officers fired at the journalist's unmarked truck because they mistook him for gunmen involved in the shooting.

The shooting was among a series of violent events that took place the same day in Matamoros, and led to the killing of Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, leader of the Gulf drug cartel. CEPET notes that most of the local newspapers limited their reporting about the murder of the Gulf cartel's kingpin, and buried the news in back sections.

The exception was "Expreso", which in a front-page editorial last week dared to demand a speedy and effective response from the authorities. The paper noted that in the past eight months, all three levels of government operating in northeastern Mexico have been so beaten down and overwhelmed that they have been unable to fulfil their basic functions, reports CEPET.

IFEX members have long been calling on the government to find a way to protect journalists - starting with making all crimes against journalists a federal offence. But the government's most recent proposal still says that the protection of journalists will ultimately rest with state officials. This doesn't bode well when "local authorities are often involved in violence against journalists, and lack of trust in the local authorities will undermine local protection," says ARTICLE 19.

Senior officials at the Ministry of Interior told CPJ that they expect to offer at-risk journalists a range of protective measures, such as bodyguards, armoured cars and/or stipends to relocate to other parts of the country.

But there is not a single peso devoted to putting the plan into action - instead relying on the resources and political will of the authorities involved, both of which are sorely lacking, says ARTICLE 19.

Part of the problem is the government did not consult any human rights groups when designing the strategy, say the IFEX members, and they aren't welcome at the table when it comes to voting on it in next year's budget bill. Neither is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who only has advisory status and thus no say in how the programme will be run.

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