Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui loses court battle to return to the radio, describes the ruling as "disastrous"

Mexican federal court repealed a recurso de amparo, an action to protect an individual’s constitutional rights, launched by journalist Carmen Aristegui after she was dismissed from the MVS radio group. The action was done in order for Aristegui to return to work on the MVS news program First Issue (Primera Emisión).

On July 14, the Fifth Appellate Court in Administrative Matters of the First Circuit unanimously dismissed, definitively and irrevocably, the protection requested by Aristegui on May 12, arguing that the media company is not a public authority, according to El Financiero.

The MVS-Aristegui case has generated controversy within the country for allegations of alleged censorship and pressures on journalists by media policies and authorities, which was considered an attack on freedom of the press and expression.

The legal battle originated on March 12 when MVS announced the dismissal of the journalists Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huertas, both from the special investigations unit of Aristegui’s Noticias MVS Primera Emisión.

Media alleged “abuse” on behalf of the journalists because they had expressed their support for a new digital platform called Méxicoleaks, a tool through which anyone can leak information of public interest anonymously, without the authorization of MVS. Aristegui had also expressed support for the portal on her news program.

Notwithstanding the reasons given by the media, their dismissal aroused suspicion of a possible connection with investigations in which the reporters had participated.

Lizárraga, for example, was part of the team that investigated the case of the "White House", an expensive apartment of the family of President Enrique Peña Nieto and his conflict of interest with a construction firm. Huerta was one of the reporters who unveiled the scandal of an alleged prostitution ring run by the former leader of the ruling party PRI in Mexico City within the party.

Following the dismissal of its employees, Aristegui continued with the news program, but demanded that MVS reinstate the journalists as a condition to continue with it.

On March 15, MVS issued a statement in which it terminated its contract with Aristegui, arguing that they could not "accept the conditions or ultimatums of our employees".

Aristegui brought an action which was taken on 12 May by a judge who granted protection to the journalist and issued five protective interim measures, including the recognition of the journalist’s contract, an order to negotiate in the presence of arbitrator appointed by both parties, as well as payment of the journalist’s wages from the time she was fired, Proceso magazine reported.

In his order of protection, the judge noted that "although the claimed actions are acts of individuals, the truth is that they are given in the context of public law" and should be analyzed in depth as "a unilateral act of termination of contract of the complainant on an issue of public importance because it concerns critical journalism and information dissemination," added Proceso

Although there were negotiations, MVS said that there would not be a possibility for Aristegui to return to work, according to El Financiero. Last June 19, the judge who granted the protection notified MVS that it had 48 hours to continue with negotiations and pay the salaries not granted since March, reported Animal Político.

Meanwhile, MVS filed an appeal, with the support of other radio owners and members of the National Chamber of Industry of Radio and Television, according to Proceso. With the granting of this action, which overrode the protection previously granted to Aristegui, the legal fight was definitively terminated.

Aristegui now faces a trade complaint filed against her by MVS that accuses her of having used their brand, without permission, to support Mexicoleaks, according to Animal Político.

Aristegui also tried to bring the case before the Supreme Court of the country, but none of the judges accepted the case, El Financiero reported.

Other Protections (Amparo)

In addition to the protection filed by the journalist, many followers of the journalist filed others to challenge the dismissal of Aristegui, claiming that the cancellation of the news program affected the right to receive truth and multiple sources of information. According to Proceso, more than 3,500 protections were filed by citizens who reported that they were affected.

Nevertheless, it was learned Thursday that a judge refused 13 of these protections, Reforma reported.

"It is not feasible that because of the suppression of a radio program it is intended to say that the right to receive a plurality of true information is necessarily violated, because for this to be the case, it would be essential that the content deleted represented the only means of information available to the audience, to guarantee pluralism and accuracy in content,” the sentence read, according to Criterio Hidalgo.

Although the decision may be appealed, if the protections are granted, it does not mean the reinstatement of the journalist, but an order of the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) to investigate whether there was a violation of the rights of the hearings, added the portal.

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.