Court clears journalists of libeling Mexican oil contractors in corruption story

A federal court has overturned a ruling that journalist’s from Contralínea weekly had caused moral harm to several executives for stories alleging contract irregularities with the state oil company Pemex, Misión Política reports.

lower court ruling charged journalists Ana Lilia Pérez and Nancy Flores, as well as their editor, Miguel Badillo, with “the abusive use of their freedom of expression.” They were ordered to “not ever publish anything more” about the businessmen, pay monetary damages, and to publish part of the sentence in the paper. However, in overturning the ruling, the court instead ordered the contractors to pay the costs generated by the trial.

This sentence could make judges more aware so that when they issue a ruling involving the press or a journalist, they first consider that journalists don’t write for themselves, they are not profiting from the news they publish, but instead they are publishing information in the public interest and the public interest is of much more value to society than the personal interests of those suing a journalist,” said Pérez, in an interview with the National Social Communications Center (CENCOS).

Article 19 celebrated the decision and highlighted that the ruling was based on international standards of rejecting libel if reporting is true or in the public interest.

In this sense, the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights said the ruling could set a broad precedent for how the courts treat journalists in libel cases:

1. Journalists only are responsible for proving their sources are who they say and to make a reasonable inquiry into the facts they give, but they are not responsible for whether their source’s opinions or facts correspond with the opinions and facts of others. Opinions cannot be true or false.
2. Journalists do not have to present formal evidence, as if they were judges or public officials, to show that their sources of information exist.
3. Journalists cannot be published unless it is shown that they did not have a source and they acted with actual malice.
4. Information that is in the public interest deserves special protection.
5. Contractors voluntarily doing business with the state are public figures, so they receive less protection from libel.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.