Despite global decreases in journalists’ murders, press advocates report record numbers of journalists killed in Mexico

Though the number of journalists killed for their work decreased globally in 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted one exception: Mexico.

In this North American country, “the number of journalists killed because of their reporting reached a historical high,” the organization said in its annual report released Dec. 21.

In Latin America, Brazil and Colombia were also included on CPJ’s list of confirmed cases, with one journalist killed in each country.

At least 42 journalists worldwide were killed “in the line of duty” during the reporting period in question, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 15, 2017, according to CPJ. This was a decrease from last year’s count: 48.

For the purpose of this report, CPJ defined "confirmed cases" as those in which it is certain that the journalist's murder occurred as direct retaliation for their journalistic work. It also includes cases of journalists killed “in combat-related crossfire,” as well as those who die “while carrying out a dangerous assignment.”

[As will be explained later, freedom of expression and press freedom organizations have recorded different numbers of journalists murdered this year based on differing criteria. Keep reading for more details.]

Mexico was the deadliest country for journalists this year that was not a conflict zone, according to CPJ. It ranks below only Iraq and Syria on the organization's list.

At least six journalists were killed in the country because of their work and the organization is investigating the cases of three other journalists.

“In Mexico, dozens of journalists have been murdered since CPJ began keeping records, but it is difficult to determine the motive due to the lack of credible investigations and the high level of violence and corruption,” the report said.

The cases confirmed by CPJ are those of Cecilio Pineda BirtoMiroslava Breach VelduceaMaximino Rodríguez PalaciosJavier Valdez CardenasSalvador Adame Pardo and Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro.

The organization made special note of the May 15 murder of Javier Valdez Cardenas, who won its 2011 International Press Freedom Award. The well-known Sinaloan journalist’s death sparked worldwide indignation toward the violent environment in which many Mexican journalists work on a daily basis. Despite regular demonstrations and demands to the state prosecutor for progress in the case, Valdez’ death is still unpunished and violence against journalists in the country continues at a record pace.

In Colombia, indigenous journalist María Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo was killed on Oct. 8 in the department of Cauca during clashes between members of Pueblo Kokonuko and agents of the National Police.

And Brazilian journalist Luís Gustavo da Silva, a 25-year-old blogger, was killed on June 14 in Aquiraz.

CPJ also records homicides in which the motives for death are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work.” The organization continues to investigate these “unconfirmed” cases.

In Mexico, these journalists include Ricardo Monlui CabreraEdwin Rivera Paz and Cándido Ríos Vázquez.

Rivera Paz, a Honduran cameraman, came to Mexico at the beginning of 2017 after his friend and colleague Igor Padilla Chávez was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on Jan. 17 of this year. Padilla Chávez is on CPJ’s list of “unconfirmed” cases in Honduras, along with Víctor Yobani Fúnez SolísCarlos Williams Flores and Carlos Oveniel Lara.

And in the Dominican Republic, two journalists were killed in a brutal double homicide at FM 103.5. Luis Manuel Medina and Leónidas Martínez, a radio announcer and director, respectively, were shot to death while Medina was broadcasting his program MIlenio Caliente at the station in San Pedro de Macorís.

In many Latin American countries, the tragedy does not end after a journalist’s death. An index released by CPJ in October of this year found that Mexico and Brazil are among the countries worldwide with the highest rates of impunity in journalists’ murders. Advocates note that when these cases go unpunished, it all but assures that the violence against the press will continue.

Press freedom organizations Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its acronym in French) and the International Press Institute (IPI) also released reports this week concerning the number of journalists killed globally. Each organization reported different numbers for journalists killed. However, all groups said that despite worldwide decreases, Mexico remains the deadliest or one of the deadliest places for the press.

By RSF’s count, 65 journalists were killed worldwide in 2017. They also noted a decrease from the previous year.

The organization attributed the downward trend to campaigns for better protection of journalists, lobbying of governments and international entities and “journalists abandoning countries that have become too dangerous.”

In particular, RSF said “Many journalists have either fled abroad or abandoned journalism in Mexico, where the criminal cartels and local politicians have imposed a reign of terror.”

Despite this, the organization reported that Mexico (11 journalists killed, according to RSF’s count) and Syria (12) are the deadliest countries for journalists.

In the land of drug cartels, journalists who cover political corruption or organized crime are almost systematically targeted, threatened, and often gunned down in cold blood,” RSF wrote.

The IPI reported 82 journalists killed around the world this year, with 14 murders in Mexico alone. However, the organization was only able to link four of the murders to the journalists’ work. The Latin American country tops this organization’s list, above Iraq and Syria.

In addition to Mexico, IPI and RSF reported murders of journalists in Brazil, the Dominican Republic,  Honduras and Colombia. IPI is also investigating the cases of journalist Manuel Salvador Trujillo Villagrán​ in Guatemala and Julio César Moisés Mesco in Peru.

“Latin America and the Caribbean was the deadliest region in 2017 for journalists. More than one quarter of the 82 journalists who died in connection with their work lost their lives there,” the IPI wrote. “All but one of the 25 journalists who died in the region appear to have been deliberately targeted for their work, a decrease from 2016, when some 28 journalists were similarly killed.”

All three organizations also noted an increase in the number of women journalists killed this year. In Mexico, Miroslava Breach Velducea was shot while getting into her vehicle in Chihuahua on March 23. Despite saying they had identified her killers, RSF reported the investigation stalled and family members have fought to access investigation details.

Newspaper Norte, located in Ciudad Juárez, closed following Breach’s murder because the director said there were no guarantees for journalism in Mexico.

Just this week, reporter Gumaro Pérez Aguilando was killed while attending a Christmas celebration at his son’s primary school in Acayucan, Veracruz.

The public prosecutor has since said Pérez was not currently working as a journalist and accused him of being part of a criminal group. As Animal Político pointed out, the State Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists (CEAPP) reported Pérez had been part of its preventive program since 2015. Additionally, the UN urged authorities not to discard his journalistic activity as a line of investigation.

Press advocates have accused Mexican authorities of discarding a journalist’s work in order to avoid investigating the case, as Animal Político reported.

The list below includes nine additional murders that CPJ did not include in its homicide record as being confirmed for reasons related to the journalist’s work. Some have been reported by organizations like RSF or IPI. We also included cases published by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in which the reasons have not yet been determined.





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.