Media coverage of a high-profile femicide in Mexico City sparked debate concerning how journalists cover murders of women

Ingrid Escamilla, 25, was brutally murdered in the Mexico City neighborhood of Vallejo on Feb. 9 and her body mutilated. Her remains were published the following day on the covers of newspaper La Prensa and tabloid Pásala, the latter with the headline “La culpa la tuvo Cupido” (It was Cupid’s fault). 

As the images also spread on social media, indignation grew among citizens, as well as civil and human rights organizations.

Demonstrations took hold, especially in the capital city, with women demanding greater protection for themselves and calling out media coverage of Escamilla’s murder. During a Feb. 14 march, protesters set a van from La Prensa on fire, demanding its director publicly apologize for publishing photos of the body.

Regarding its policy of photographic publication, the director of La Prensa, Luis Carriles, told the Knight Center that as a newspaper they will remain within the law and that they are willing to adjust to legal changes.

“We continue as a popular newspaper, we remain as a serious and committed newspaper and today we will meet with leaders of the organizations. We believe in the work of society, in peace journalism and in the construction of new narratives,” Carriles said.

Freedom of expression organization Article 19 Mexico indicated that the publication of these images goes against all journalistic ethics and demonstrates the urgency of a space for reflection of the journalistic union on the coverage of femicides. It also said that the dissemination of these images is a form of revictimization, which in this case has come from the same State by filtering these images to the media. At the same time, the organization warned in its statement that this is not the first time such leaks have occurred.

In the case of the images of Escamilla, those suspected of filtering images to the media are allegedly six officials of the Attorney General's Office of Mexico City (FGJCDMX, for its acronym in Spanish), the site La Silla Rota reported. The deputy prosecutor for Attention to Victims and Community Services of the FGJCDMX, Nelly Montealegre, said that the suspects are already being investigated.

The Secretariat of the Interior (Segob) reported in a statement dated Feb. 13 that it will investigate, with the legal consequences of the case, the media that promoted the leaking of the the photos of Escamilla’s body.

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, told the Knight Center that "the mass media have an obligation of self-regulation with ethical parameters that can be known by the public."

“In the case of the handling of the image of acts of violence that have a basis in terms of stereotypes and gender, and of historic gender violence in our continent, (…) it must be established how this type of information is handled and especially of images, paying attention precisely to the need that it is an obligation of all, of the States and also of the media, according to the Convention of Belém Do Pará, for the fight against all forms of violence against women,” he added.

Various groups, including United Mexican Women Journalists (PUM), condemned the publication of images of Escamilla’s body. "The case of Ingrid, like many others, is another example of how the media contribute to daily violence against women," PUM wrote via Twitter.

"As journalists and as women it hurts us and we are outraged to see the shameless impunity with which certain companies operate that on a daily basis disseminate information that only aggravates, stigmatizes, discriminates, stereotypes and revictimizes women," PUM said.

In Mexico, the rate of femicide has increased by 137 percent in the last five years, according to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SNSP), as published by La Vanguardia. In 2019 alone, 976 complaints of femicide were registered, it said.

Just days following the murder of Escamilla, on Feb. 15, residents of a neighborhood in Mexico City found the body of Fátima Aldrighett, 7, in a plastic bag. The girl was allegedly kidnapped while leaving school on Feb. 11. Her family reported that the police made no effort to look for her when they went to report her disappearance, the BBC published.

On the morning of Feb. 10 when the photos of Escamilla were published, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador opened his morning press conference informing the public of the recovery of two billion Mexican pesos by the Attorney General's Office after conducting investigations of illegal acts. Upon receiving questions from the press, journalists asked him about how his government will fight the increasing femicides in the country.

To this, the president replied: “Look, I do not want the subject to be only about femicide, it is already very clear, much has been manipulated about this issue in the media, not in all, of course, those who do not see us with good eyes, they take advantage of any circumstance to generate defamation campaigns, that is clear. Distortion, false information, this is the case.”

Subsequently, the president emphasized that he is in favor of the creation of a prosecutor's office specialized in the investigation of femicides, El Heraldo de Puebla reported.

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