The relentless attack on Mexican journalists


Reporting in Mexico is often a risky job but attacks on journalists intensified during the campaign for last month’s legislative elections.

These attacks included threats, intimidation, temporary deprivation of freedom and cyber attacks.

“Journalists reporting [electoral fraud] had their information channels blocked, their cameras were taken from them to erase the material,” denounces Gabriel Soto, coordinator of the Journalists’ Protection Programme of the Mexican chapter of Article 19, in an interview with Equal Times.

This organisation, headquartered in London, documented 32 incidents of this kind in May alone.

On 14 May, the platform of the internet TV station RompevientoTV was hacked and two years’ of material – subsequently recovered – were stolen.

The digital news website Sin Embargo has suffered two Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks this year – the site is bombarded with thousands of visits that it is unable to process, until it collapses.

The second attack came when it revealed that the Green Party, Partido Verde Ecologista de México, traditionally allied to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, had hired a company to use bots or fake social media network users.

“The attacks on journalists are intensified in the run up to elections, given the exposure of corrupt candidates and their vote buying and coercion tactics,” Balbina Flores, the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) representative in Mexico, tells Equal Times.

The electioneering exacerbates what is already a difficult situation for journalists, in a country that ranks among the 10 most dangerous countries for journalists, despite not being engaged in open armed conflict.

The most recent attack was waged against journalist Bernardo Javier Cano, presenter of the radio programme Hora Cero, in Iguala, a city in the state of Guerrero.

Cano was kidnapped on his way home on 7 May and freed on Thursday 28 May, following the payment of a ransom.


Massacre in Iguala

On the night of 26 September 2014, Iguala was the scene of an attack by local police on students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos teacher training college, during which six people were killed and 25 were injured.

According to the investigation of the Public Prosecution Service of the Republic, these agents then handed over 43 future teachers to members of Guerreros Unidos, one of the most violent drug trafficking rings in the area, who burnt them at the municipal rubbish dump in Cocula – near Iguala – then threw their remains into a nearby river.

Guerrero is one of the areas where journalists face the greatest obstacles, as highlighted in a report on the exercise of journalism in Guerrero, published in April 2015 by various NGOs.

The US organisation Freedom House documented attacks on 46 journalists in Guerrero during 2014.

RWB, for its part, documented that since October 2014 there had been attacks on around 30 reporters during the demonstrations held over the disappearance of the 43 students.

The cloud surrounding Mexico’s journalists has grown even darker since December 2006, when the recently elected right-wing president Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels, entangled in a violent dispute over the drug distribution routes to the lucrative US market.

This campaign has given rise to one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies in Latin America, with over 23,000 people disappeared, over 100,000 murders and almost 200,000 internal displacements.

According to the figures of the National Human Rights Commission, 100 reporters have been killed since 2000, 21 journalists have disappeared since 2005 and there have been 45 violent attacks on media organisations since 2006.


Institutionalised impunity

“There is almost total impunity, which prevents bringing an end to the attacks and the danger of exercising this profession. Journalists ask themselves why they should report an attack if it only means exposing themselves more,” explains Soto.

In its report of March 2015 on the State of Censorship, Article 19 documented 326 assaults on journalists, in an inventory of the deterioration in press freedom and the violence against the press during 2014.

The organisation has calculated that since President Enrique Peña Nieto came to power, a journalist is assaulted every 26.7 hours, as compared with assaults every 48.1 hours during the Calderón administration.

Since Peña Nieto took office, 10 journalists have been murdered, seemingly on account of their work, and another four have disappeared. These crimes have been committed with impunity.

Among the knock-on effects of this situation are censorship and self-censorship, a trend that started in the northern areas, where the media stopped talking about the violence, then spread to the south, to places like Michoacán and Guerrero, with the shift in the bloodshed.

“They are consequences of the violence. They have become common practice and a survival tactic for many journalists and media organisations,” explains Flores

The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of the Press, set up in 2010, and the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, created in 2012, have proven ineffective.

By December 2014, the special public prosecution unit had opened 646 investigations, of which 167 corresponded to that year, as compared with 124 in 2013 and 179 in 2012, without making any major breakthrough.

By February 2014, the protection mechanism had accumulated 88 of 152 cases not dealt with by the prosecution service.

Between October 2012 and December 2014, the mechanism received 218 protection requests, of which 123 came from journalists and 95 from human rights defenders. It responded with 45 urgent measures, 135 protection measures and 46 preventive measures.

“It is all linked. Even if we had a mechanism that worked well, when will the protection measures end if there is no end to the impunity? If the prosecution service doesn’t conduct more conclusive investigations, the mechanism is of little use,” resumes Soto.

For Flores, the administration of justice needs to be more effective.

“We are witnessing a collapse of the system,” she concludes.