Mexican newspaper Reforma threatened for coverage of president and his management of COVID-19

Mexican newspaper Reforma released an audio recording in which a man who claims to be from an organized crime group threatened to “blow up” its newsroom if it did not stop criticizing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

 Reforma released an audio recording of a threatening phone call it received from an unknown caller. (YouTube Screenshot)

Reforma released an audio recording of a threatening phone call it received from an unknown caller. (YouTube Screenshot)

According to the audio recording, published on the Grupo Reforma YouTube channel on May 14, the person tells the operator that he is calling on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel, which he says " is for Andrés Manuel López Obrador," and criticizes Reforma for having published the video titled “Del ‘no pasa nada’ … a la emergencia” (From 'nothing is happening' ... to emergency). In that video, Reforma shows López Obrador's statements and the dates he said them with a graphic that shows the number of confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19.

The person said that with this video, Reforma was "denigrating, almost mocking the President of the Republic" and threatened that if this type of coverage of the president is not stopped, his criminal group will attack the newspaper.

"What they are doing has already crossed the line," the man said to the operator, telling her to leave the message for the Reforma newsroom. "... Do not slander the president of the republic, do not betray the homeland, because if not we are going to blow up the offices of this (explicit) newspaper. ”

The call, Reforma reported, was made on May 13 at 8:42 a.m. from a phone in Mexicali, Baja California.

On May 14, during his morning press conference, López Obrador said that his government had nothing to do with the threats made against Reforma.

"We disqualify any violent act. We are against violence, we are pacifists," the president said. He condemned any threat made in the name of his government and affirmed that no media outlet would be censored and that "full liberties to the right to dissent, most certainly the right to criticism, will be guaranteed."

However, he also stressed his criticism of the newspaper, saying that "We know that we have differences with Reforma, we will continue to have them because we think differently."

"They [Reforma] are the most genuine representatives of conservative thought in Mexico and they are the ones who oppose the Transformation," said López Obrador, speaking of his vision for the future of the country that he has called the Fourth Transformation, which alludes to other key moments in Mexico’s history. "Because they want to maintain the same regime of corruption and privileges that reigned in Mexico for a long time."

The same day, the Governing Board of the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists denounced the threats directed at the newspaper and reported that they had contacted Reforma regarding "security measures that may be necessary.”

Emphasizing the important role of the Mexican press in the democracy of that country, it  reiterated that "... the obligation to guarantee that journalistic exercise is developed freely, without any type of pressure or risk that hinders its legitimate exercise, is recognized, since otherwise, the Democratic State and rights are violated.

"People and organizations defending human rights and journalists must work without obstacles or insecurity, in a safe and favorable environment throughout the country."

It called on society to respect freedom of expression and the defense of human rights.

Through Twitter, Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), acknowledged the statement from the Mexican government.

"I welcome that @SEGOB_mx @SRE_mx have strongly condemned the threat to newspaper @Reforma and highlighted the role of the Mexican press in its democracy. Prevention, Protection and the Pursuit of Justice go together in the fight against violence against journalists,” he wrote.

This is not the first time that the Reforma group has received threats for its coverage of the Mexican president. The relationship between the newspaper and López Obrador, and the president's comments towards it, has led organizations that defend freedom of expression and information to ask the president to take action on the matter in terms of how he expresses himself concerning the press.

On April 25, 2019, Article 19 denounced threats received by the newspaper and its general editorial Juan E. Pardinas, who was the victim of “death threats, harassment and attempted doxxing on social networks by unknown individuals, who also began a smear campaign with the hashtag #NarcoReforma.”

The threats, according to Article 19, occurred after López Obrador criticized Reforma in his morning press conference on April 23, 2019 for having published the address of his presidential house in the article, “Refuerzan vigilancia en casa de AMLO” (They reinforce surveillance at AMLO's house), which reported threats that the president had received from a criminal organization. However, the leader’s address has been in the public domain since  the 2018 electoral campaign.

The organization also demanded that the Mexican authorities protect Pardinas and cease its stigmatizing discourse towards this media outlet as it contributed to a “direct impact regarding the protection or risk that it may generate towards the work of the press, since it permeates the discourse of the rest of society and even generates attacks,” as could be seen in the case of Reforma and Pardinas in 2019.