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Prominent journalist fired, attempt to suppress rumour suspected

(RSF/IFEX) - 8 February 2011 - Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that influential radio and TV anchor Carmen Aristegui was suddenly fired by the MVS media group on 6 February, two days after referring in her weekday news programme on radio MVS and cable channel Canal 52 to claims by opposition legislators that President Felipe Calderón has a drinking problem.

"The speed with which she was fired and the lack of any clear explanation by MVS tend to support the suspicion that she was the victim of political pressure if not outright censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "We point out that Aristegui, who is also producer for CNN in Spanish, was already the victim of an unfair dismissal in a sensitive political context in 2008."

In "MVS Noticias con Carmen Aristegui" on the morning of 4 February, Aristegui showed a demonstration in which members of the opposition Workers Party (PT) unfurled a banner in the Chamber of Deputies that said: "Would you let a drunk drive your car? No, right? So why are you letting one run the country?"

Noting that questions had already been raised in the past about Calderón's alleged alcoholism, Aristegui suggested on the air that the president's office ought to respond with a clear statement on the subject (watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4mi7c4WpM0 ).

MVS radio announced two days later that Aristegui's contract been terminated because of a "violation of the code of ethics" but offered no details. In a recorded message, the station said the code excluded "the publishing or broadcasting of rumours" ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHn1qO9L0mA&feature=watch_response ). According to other sources, Aristegui refused to offer an apology.

Reporters Without Borders regards Aristegui's controversial dismissal as questionable. She was in no way guilty of reporting rumours. She behaved professionally by referring to the protest and then suggesting that the president's office had a right to respond. What should she apologise for?

By its nature, a rumour is reprehensible but it cannot be ignored when it concerns a leading pubic figure. It must either become a news item or it must die - after examination of the facts or an appropriate debate. Censorship will just fuel the rumour. If it is confirmed that Aristegui's dismissal was the result of direct or indirect political pressure, it will constitute a serious setback for free expression in Mexico.

W Radio, a station owned by the Televisa group, cited "editorial incompatibility" when it fired Aristegui in 2008 after she revealed that independent journalist Lydia Cacho, who had exposed a paedophile ring allegedly involving associates of Puebla governor Mario Marín, had been arrested on the governor's orders.

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