Dismissal of Carmen Aristegui stirs controversy in Mexico

The dismissal of journalist Carmen Aristegui from MVS radio group in Mexico on March 15 fueled the existing national controversy caused by the recent dismissal of two reporters who were part of her team. Many are labeling the firing of these communicators as an attack on freedom of expression.

The controversy erupted on March 12, when MVS announced the release of journalists Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huerta. Both journalists were part of the special investigations unit MVS News Aristegui Primera Emisión (First Issue), which broadcast every morning. They were accused of “misuse,” which the media company said led to them losing “its trust” in the reporters.

Lizárraga had appeared in a promotional video for a new digital platform called Méxicoleaks, a tool that anyone can use to leak public information anonymously. Meanwhile, Aristegui showed support for the platform during her broadcast. MVS distanced itself from the support expressed for Méxicoleaks and said that the reporters’ unauthorized use of the company’s name was an abuse.

However, the firing of the first two reporters raised suspicion about the possible relation to the investigations they were working on. Lizárraga was part of the team that investigated the case of the “White House,” an expensive residence belonging to the presidential family, tied up with a construction company in an web of conflicted interests. Huerta, on the other hand, was one of the journalists who introduced the scandal dealing with the alleged prostitution network directed by a former PRI leader in Mexico City.

According to the media, these investigations had generated a crisis between the Aristegui news team and MVS directors.

After learning of the dismissals on March 12, some of the journalists' followers organized protests outside MVS headquarters, shouting slogans like, “no to censorship!” They also created a hashtag –#InDefenseOfAristegui – and a campaign to collect signatures that would block Aristegui’s dismissal.

Aristegui gave her Friday broadcast and demanded the rehiring of her co-workers as a condition for the newscast continuing. MVS responded with a series of “guidelines” and rules that should be followed by program hosts. Among these, the network announced that the investigations unit would no longer be exclusively part of Primera Emisión, but that this team would belong to MVS as a whole and would be under the command of the general director.

On Sunday night, the network officially announced Aristegui’s dismissal. In its statement, MVS said, “We regret the host’s position, but as a company we cannot accept conditions and ultimatums from our collaborators. Dialogue is not served by imposing conditions, but by listening to the parties and trying to reach agreements.”

The journalist’s termination generated a wave of criticism across social networks. The ombudsman of the audience, who had already voiced his disagreement with the handling of the first dismissals, said on his Twitter account that “the conditions imposed on the journalist were simply unacceptable, due to her professional dignity and the unilateral change to her contract. With the parting of Carmen Aristegui and her team everyone loses: the audience, the freedom of expression, the right to information, MVS, and the Vargas family.”

Meanwhile, Denise Dresser, a political scientist who collaborated with Aristegui’s program, announced her resignation. “MVS terminated its relationship with Carmen Aristegui, I now terminate my relationship with MVS,” Dresser wrote on her Twitter account.

Aristegui announced that she would engage in a legal battle for the freedom of expression, adding that the dismissal of her entire team demonstrates that the decision “has all the vices of being planned with much anticipation, resources and power.” Likewise, she promised to analyze the strategy to continue defending liberty of expression in a “country that is witnessing …[an]… authoritarian windstorm and an ominous sign of something that we should certainly avoid.”

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.