Mexican initiative #AgendaDePeriodistas proposes combatting impunity and strengthening journalism as a profession

Valuing journalistic work in Mexico, ending impunity of attacks against journalists and strengthening the guild are the preliminary objectives of the participants of the working groups of the #AgendaDePeriodistas initiative, which seeks to create an organization and a working plan to combat violence against the press in that country.

In the first phase of the initiative during six working groups that were held in June in Mexico City, more than 500 participants made proposals of objectives to pursue. Journalists have since organized and worked on these proposals.

Three preliminary objectives arose from these proposals that will serve as the axis to form the agenda of a future organization that will seek to support, protect and strengthen the journalistic guild in Mexico.

"These three objectives are part of a trend and/or a widespread concern of those who attended the activity (the working tables)," Antonio Martínez said during the presentation of the objectives, held on August 10 in the Mexican capital. "I think right now we have to start with a conversation around these three goals."

The objective of assessing the importance of journalistic work includes publicizing figures of attacks on the press, Martínez said. In this regard, participants and representatives of journalists organizations from other countries argued that, rather than disseminating figures –which vary, according to the body that presents them–, what must be achieved is to sensitize society about the need to be well-informed.

"We have to tell people why journalists are important, because we are their instrument to exercise their right to be informed," said journalist Témoris Grecko. "Not that we are important because we are journalists, but because they kill us while we are serving society as an instrument."

In addition to feeling unprotected, journalists in Mexico feel abandoned by other sectors of society in their struggle to defend their work and guarantee freedom of expression, according to other participants.

"There is a disconnect between our issue, our drama, and how society is perceiving our problem," journalist Homero Campa said. "The idea is to achieve this communication with the different social sectors and achieve support. We must link with different social sectors to accompany us in this process."

Regarding the goal of ending impunity, as well as its specific goals of reforming legislation and strengthening systems of protection for journalists, participants agreed that it is an objective that is not in the hands of journalists to achieve, in addition to the fact that they are ambitious and unrealistic goals.

However, they proposed addressing this objective in a way they can as journalists, among themselves, with actions like forming a strong guild that is in a position to negotiate and putting pressure on legislators, politicians and organizations.

"It would have to start lower, first achieving unity and adding journalists, achieving a strong organization of journalists," said Alfredo Zacarías, director of the Argentinean Forum of Journalism (FOPEA). "None of these things involve actions that can be done if there are 10 or 20 (journalists). To get to this point of reformulating the state agencies first you have to have a strong body that goes out to look for that."

It is also up to the journalists to work from their trenches to raise the political cost of journalists’ murders, as well as to pressure the courts to resolve the cases, the attendees said.

"One issue against impunity that depends on journalism is to investigate cases and publish case by case," said Maria Teresa Ronderos, director of the Open Society Foundations for Independent Journalism. "That is the task of journalism, which is different from the task of politics. You have to make a list of priorities, because you can not do everything at the same time and less when you are starting."

According to the journalist, ending impunity and reforming state agencies "are things that the state will do, but that journalism can pressure, annoy and publish" them to achieve.

"The journalistic agenda can also make a list of things the state should be doing and is not doing," Ronderos said.

Several of the attendees agreed that the strengthening of journalists as a guild is essential to being able to achieve the other two objectives. Also, others proposed to promote issues such as training journalists and collaboration with other sectors from which journalism can be supported to achieve its objectives.

"The legal issue is key for the journalist, but it is much more important to make alliances with legal organizations, without losing the essence of journalism," said Fernando Ramírez, director of the Foundation for Press Freedom of Colombia (FLIP). "Bringing in people from other sides allows us to grow in those things that we need to bring cases to the IACHR, which as journalists we do not know how to do."

Following the presentation of these preliminary objectives, what follows for #AgendaDePeriodistas is to organize the proposals and identify the priority themes to later create the definitive agenda, as well as to define the organizational model that they will form and present in September.

"The first thing that has to be defined is what interests us in the agenda, that is key," Guillermo Osorno, director of the Horizontal portal and convener of #AgendaDePeriodistas, said in an interview with the Knight Center ahead of the Aug. 10 event. "I do not know what kind of organization we want to be because we have not finished defining our priority agenda. But there has to be a large national membership. These two things are basic to being able to have weight and ability to influence in any area we are dealing with."

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.