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Violence is destroying press freedom in Mexico, report reveals

(WAN-IFRA/IFEX) - Mexico's press is rapidly losing its freedom and the government must take urgent action to guarantee the safety of journalists and media professionals, so says a report published today by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

Entitled “A Death Threat to Freedom: A Report on Violence Against Mexico's Press,” the report identifies the unprecedented level of violence faced by the Mexican press as a result of corruption, organised crime and the ongoing armed offensive against drug traffickers. Thirty-nine media professionals have been killed since the outgoing president, Felipe Calderón, declared a 'war' on drugs in 2006.

“Mexico is facing a crisis of historic proportions and its press is firmly in the front line,” said Larry Kilman, WAN-IFRA Deputy CEO and Director of Communications and Public Affairs. “Targeting journalists as a means of controlling news output undermines democracy and silences freedom of expression. The incoming Mexican government must do more to ensure its press is free and its journalists are safe to report the news.”

The report examines how the drug cartels aim to control the flow of information through terror, assassination, armed attacks on journalists and media outlets, threats and kidnappings. Such tactics have been brutally effective: entire regions in Mexico are experiencing a complete information blackout, with exile or self-censorship often the only ways journalists have of protecting themselves.

The report details:

- The unprecedented increase in violence against the media since 2006, its impact on the profession of journalism, and how the media is reacting to the challenges posed;

- How violence is used to control territory and the flow of information within it;

- The ineffective and inadequate response of authorities at federal, state and municipal levels;

- Evidence of state-sanctioned violence against journalists; and

- How a legacy of authoritarianism, corruption and a lack of transparency from previous governments has a negative impact on the role of the media in Mexican society, and how the current wave of violence is aggravating it.

The cartels are engaged in a war against the authorities, but also between themselves as they vie for control over vacant drug trafficking routes. The cartels also manage crime rings involving extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, sexual slavery, people and organ trafficking. According to press reports, this conflict has resulted in the deaths of almost 50,000 people, many of them civilians.

The Mexican authorities are themselves implicated in the violence, with corruption and impunity having spread to every level of government. “The press is increasingly unable to fulfill its role and has been left woefully unprotected in what is one of the world's most dangerous environments for journalists,” said Rodrigo Bonilla, WAN-IFRA Missions Manager and author of the report. “With the recommendations contained in this report and our ongoing advocacy work in support of Mexican journalists, we hope the government will take meaningful steps to guarantee freedom of expression.”

Yesterday (3 September), during the opening ceremony of the World Newspaper Congress, the annual meeting point for the world's press industry held this year in Kiev, Ukraine, Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández was presented with the Golden Pen of Freedom, WAN-IFRA's annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. In awarding the prize to Ms. Hernández, WAN-IFRA expressed its solidarity with all Mexican journalists, who despite constant threats and horrendous violence remain defiant in holding power to account.

Download the full report

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