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Newspaper pressured to fire two journalists in exchange for government advertising contract

(CENCOS/IFEX) - Journalists Enrique Hernández Padrón and Graciela Castañon Aguilar were dismissed from their jobs at the weekly "El Portal" on 28 February 2011, where they had been working as editor and journalist, respectively. They were dismissed after the paper's owner, Graciela del Rosal Guerra, met with the state government's Social Communications coordinator, Juan Antonio Hernández Varela, who asked del Rosal Guerra to dismiss the two journalists in exchange for the paper being allocated an official advertising contract. He also told her that failure to comply with this request could result in state agencies and press officers of other institutions breaking contracts they currently have with "El Portal".

Hernández Varela said that the journalists were "persona non grata" according to the San Luis Potosí state governor, Fernando Toranzo Fernández. Hernández Padrón told CENCOS that both he and Castañon Aguilar worked in the state Social Communications Department during the previous state administration, and this was why the current administration is against them.

Hernández Padrón also said that in San Luis Potosí the diversity of information in the media is nonexistent as a result of the strong business relationships between media owners and the state government, which is portrayed favourably in the media. He said that in accepting the position of editor at "El Portal" in June 2010, he had begun the restructuring of the paper's editorial line and had provided more diverse information as a result. He pointed out that "El Portal" had recently republished an article about the highest paid governors in the country which had included information on Toranzo Fernández, and that this had also contributed to the governor's displeasure with the paper.

After the publication of this article, almost all copies of that edition of "El Portal" - which is distributed free of charge - were seized by unknown individuals from various businesses and other locations where the paper is distributed. Although it is not possible to establish a link between that incident and the state government, there are certain details that do suggest a connection. Both Hernández Padrón and Castañon Aguilar have filed complaints with the State Government Secretariat denouncing their dismissals.

Official contracts are used to reward and punish the media according to their news coverage, especially in states that lack clear regulatory frameworks. This makes granting these contracts a discretionary act subject to personal and political interests to the detriment of the quality of the information being published. Using these contracts as a method of indirect censorship violates the rights of journalists and readers.

In 2010, free expression Special Rapporteurs from the OAS and the U.N. stated that the Mexican government needed to adopt laws to prohibit the discriminatory use of advertising contracts.

CENCOS calls on the San Luis Potosí government to respect and guarantee the right to free expression, especially that of journalists Hernández Padrón and Castañon Aguilar.

(Please note this is an abridged translation.)

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