Mexico breaks another record in attacks against the press in 2015, and journalists live in fear, says Article 19

In 2015, Mexico saw one attack against journalists every 22 hours, making that year the most violent for the country’s press since 2009, according to an annual report from freedom of expression organization Article 19 Mexico. This violence, along with the pervasive impunity that follows, an unresponsive state, weak democracy and inaccessible protective agencies, have created a culture of fear among the country's journalists, the report said.

Article 19 Mexico used video, infographics, statistics and well-documented cases to describe this situation of fear among journalists who are censored, threatened, attacked and killed with increasing frequency.

“The truth is that today in Mexico, fear is established, to a greater or lesser extent, in all newsrooms. And it is impossible to create responsible and diligent journalism in the public interest while in fear,” said Darío Ramírez, director of Article 19 Mexico, in the report.

The organization released the report at a press conference in Mexico City on March 17. Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, spoke at the event about
the need to fight against impunity.

In 2015, the organization recorded 397 attacks, including seven murders, according to the report. This was an increase of 21.8 percent from 2014.

During the first three years of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, from December 2012 to December 2015, the organization documented 1073 attacks.

According to the organization, 46.9 percent of assaults on journalists in the past seven years have come from a public servant. It pointed out that this fact is contrary to what the State usually identifies as the main threat: organized crime.

And in Mexico, impunity reigns in the cases of violence against journalists.

“It is well known that aggression against a journalist or media outlet will never be punished. We have become accustomed to that. This lack of punishment inevitably promotes fear that runs through the veins of all journalists in Mexico,” Ramírez wrote.

Violence against journalists is concentrated in the southern half of the country. A majority of attacks occurred in Mexico City and Veracruz, followed by Guerrero and Puebla. The report clarified the high number attributed to Mexico City was due to police abuse at social protests.

In Veracruz, labeled by Ramírez as the most dangerous place for journalists on the continent, 15 journalists have been killed during the administration of Governor Javier Duarte (2010 to present). The organization said this made “the entity the most lethal for the Mexican press.”

The report also took a close look at states most affected by violence or threats against media workers in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Oaxaca. It examined violence against women journalists on social networks and digital censorship in Puebla. These case studies are supplemented with videos of testimonials from editors and journalists from these states.

Though the organization noted that journalists confront greater risks in 2016 than in previous years, it also acknowledged the work of solidarity networks that are combating forces of censorship and intimidation. Examples are the Colectivo Voz Alterna in Veracruz or the Red Puebla.

Finally, the report looked at the effectiveness of state entities in protecting journalists, investigating attacks and enforcing punishment. In particular, it looked at the Mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists, which has been repeatedly criticized by national and international organizations.

“While the Mechanism is in search of institutional strengthening, the current situation of violence against the press warrants clear showing of political will to be reflected in the provision of sufficient resources (human, technical, material, financial, political) to do their job,” the report said.

The report ends with a series of recommendations, most of which are directed at the State. In general terms, the organization called on the State to begin “to bear the cost of this diffidence and initiate action, within it capabilities, power and regulatory framework, to protect and ensure justice, truth and reparation to those who exercise freedom of expression.”

Article 19 Mexico is not alone in its repeated calls for attention to the situation of journalists in the country and demand for action on the part of officials.

In a recent report on the situation of human rights in Mexico, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said that journalists are one of the “groups especially affected” by the high rates of violence in the country. The organization added that Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist.

Seven journalists were killed in Mexico in 2015.

José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo, a newspaper editor, was the first journalist to be killed that year; his body was found on the side of a Veracruz highway in January.

In June, the body of newspaper editor Gerardo Nieto Alvarez was found in Guanajuato. The body of Armando Saldaña Morales, a Veracruz radio journalist, was found in Oaxaca in May. And community radio director Abel Martínez Raymundo was killed in April, also in Oaxaca.

July 2015 was a particularly deadly month for Mexican journalists. Veracruz photojournalist Rubén Espinosa Becerril was killed in Mexico City, radio journalist Filadelfo Sánchez Sarmiento was killed in the state of Oaxaca and Juan Mendoza Delgado, director of news portal Escribiendo la Verdad, was found dead in Veracruz.

At least four journalists have been killed in Mexico so far this year.

Moisés Dagdug Lutzow, director and owner of media company Grupo VX, was killed in Tabasco on Feb. 20. Journalist Anabel Flores Salazar was kidnapped on Feb. 8 from her home in Veracruz and found dead a day later in neighboring Puebla. And in January, two journalists were killed in Oaxaca in the span of a weekend. Marcos Hernández Bautista, a correspondent for Noticias Voz e Imagen of Oaxaca, was killed on Jan. 21 and community radio host Reynel Martínez Cerqueda was killed on Jan. 22.

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.