Mexico is on the brink of losing its press freedom, says report from WAN-IFRA (Interview)

A report from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) warned that Mexico's press is rapidly losing its freedom with entire regions experiencing an "information blackout" due to criminal organizations that control the flow of information through armed attacks on the media, the killing of journalists, threats and forced disappearances.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas spoke with Press Freedom Missions Manager Rodrigo Bonilla of the Paris-based WAN-IFRA and author of the new report "A Death Threat to Freedom: A Report on Violence Against Mexico’s Press.”

What trends do you notice in attacks on the press in Mexico since 2006?
Rodrigo Bonilla: The violence is shifting, it's changing, it changes according to the state, the region, according to the military offensives and the struggles between drug cartels. In the last 18 months, there has been a notable rise in attacks against the press in Veracruz while in the state of Baja California the violence has diminished. What is known is that since President Felipe Calderón's military policy started in 2006 the number of attacks on journalists, kidnappings, killings and threats have risen. The increase has held through today. We reported 39 killings of journalists during the Calderón administration.

2012 was an election year. Is there a relationship between attacks on the press and the election?
RB: It's difficult to determine if the election is responsible for an increase in attacks on the press. What can be seen is a rapid acceleration in the federal government's approval of laws to protect journalists like allowing federal authorities to investigate crimes against reporters and the creation of a protection mechanism. The current president is rushing to finish his term and be able to say that yes, he responded to civil society's demands.

How do you explain the persistent impunity enjoyed by those who commit crimes against journalists despite these initiatives?
RB: They fail simply because there is no real political will behind them to solve the problem. In the end, there is a lack of culture, of the social importance of journalism to put an end to the impunity.

What should the media do to combat these threats?
RB: Some of the report's recommendations are a huge investment in security protocols by media outlets, more training courses, [and] establishing editorial criteria to guarantee the security of journalists. The investment should be massive considering the size of the crisis and violence against the media. To a certain extent this is already happening, like the Agreement for the Informative Coverage of Violence, but more is needed. In some regions in the north of the country, some outlets take serious measures like life insurance for journalists, [and] rotate the beats journalists cover. These examples have to be generalized. Furthermore, media companies in the capital should have more solidarity with regional outlets.

WAN-IFRA sent letters to the three presidential candidates calling on them to commit themselves to freedom of expression. What response did you receive from President-Elect Enrique Peña Nieto?
RB: There was no response but we continue trying to establish communication to pressure him to adopt effective measures to protect journalists and end the killing of reporters with impunity.

What should the next Mexican president do to stop the threats against the press?
RB: President-Elect Enrique Peña Nieto has told the foreign press that he will have a democratic government. We are going to follow him closely to see how true this is. One way to do it is to ensure the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed against Journalists and the Mechanism to Protect Journalists are effective. But we're realists because the PRI administrations in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Chihuahua have terrible records of impunity (in attacks on the press). That's why we're going to closely follow him.

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.