A freelance journalist in Puebla is fatally shot in his car, in the middle of the afternoon, after reporting on a military operation. A magazine editor in Oaxaca is viciously beaten while covering government intimidation of a local opposition group, landing him in the hospital for over 12 hours.
These are just two examples from the last few weeks of escalating violence against journalists in Mexico. Attacks on journalists have risen sharply since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006 and launched a war on the drug cartels. Mexico is now one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
On December 1, President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will begin his six-year term, hopefully marking the end of a horrific period for freedom of expression in Mexico.
Sources vary on the exact number of journalists killed over the past six years. According to the International Press Institute, the freelance journalist in Puebla was the 55th journalist murdered since 2006. Other organizations cite higher numbers — for example, the Latin American Federation for Journalists (FELAP in Spanish) counts nearly 80 journalists killed since 2006. In July, the Mexican Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists said that 67 journalists had been killed since 2006, and 14 had disappeared.
American reporters have not been immune, either: a news intern for the Associated Press, a Grinnell College graduate, was murdered in Mexico City in June, and a Texan photojournalist reporting for a northern Mexico paper disappeared in May.
With attacks, threats, and intimidation now a common occurrence, some media outlets, like El Mañana in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas have suspended coverage of organized crime and narco violence. El Mañana’s office has been attacked with explosive devices and gunfire twice in 2012. Media outlets that have continued to cover crime and corruption, especially those outside of Mexico City, usually do so in a severely compromised fashion.
In an excellent documentary produced earlier this year by the British media watchdog group Article 19, a freelance journalist from Monterrey put it succinctly:
“Journalism in general is at the mercy of power and drug dealers. It is self-censored to save the lives of journalists and their directors.”
Impunity is widespread. This month, esteemed Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto reported that only three crimes against journalists since 1997 have resulted in convictions and sentencing. A recent arrest in the murder of a high-profile Veracruz journalist, who covered politics and corruption, is highly dubious, according to the CPJ.
Few trust the government’s commitment to solving crimes against journalists, because politicians are often believed to be behind the attacks. According to Article 19, 53% of the alleged aggressors in violence against journalists are public officials.
Under pressure from human rights groups, Calderon’s administration has taken steps to protect journalists this year, including the federalization of crimes against journalists. However, these measures have largely been deemed a failure. Reporters continue to be murdered, kidnapped attacked, and threatened, without repercussions.
The new administration has a grave responsibility to better protect the press in Mexico. Journalists, citizens, and anyone concerned about freedom of expression anxiously await changes in the next term.