New global project created to publicize “forbidden stories” of threatened journalists begins with Mexico

The "Forbidden Stories" project launched Oct. 31 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French) and the Freedom Voices Network aims to protect the stories of journalists who are at risk or under threat for doing their jobs: to report.

Additionally, the platform wants to finalize and disseminate to the world the stories journalists were working when they were arrested or killed in attempts to silence their voice.

The first three journalists honored by the project are Mexicans Cecilio PinedaMiroslava Breach and Javier Valdez, who were murdered in 2017 due to their investigations into potential relationships between drug traffickers and public officials in their country.

Forbidden Stories will produce short videos made for social networks that highlight the stories the journalists were working on and for which they were murdered.

The first video has been released and tells the story of Pineda, who was murdered two hours after posting a video on his Facebook page in which he pointed out links between Saúl Beltrán, state lawmaker and former mayor of San Miguel Totolapan, and Raybel Jacobo de Almonte, known as "El Tequilero", leader of a criminal group that operates in the region.

The videos will be translated into nine languages to reach "as many people as possible" around the world and have "maximum impact," according to the press release released by RSF on the project.

In addition to the videos, "Forbidden Stories" aims to promote one or two in-depth collaborative investigations each year in partnership with an international network of television, radio, print and online journalistic media to be published in several languages.

For journalists who feel threatened or fear for the security of the information they are gathering in their investigations, the platform offers an encrypted repository to protect them. "If something happens to them, Forbidden Stories will be in a position to finish their investigative stories in accordance with their instructions and to disseminate them widely thanks to a collaborative network of media committed to defending the freedom to inform," an RSF release says.

“Our aim is to keep their stories alive and to ensure that as many people as possible have access to independently reported information about important subjects such as the environment, public health, human rights and corruption,” said Laurent Richard, founder of Freedom Voices Network, according to the release.

This collaborative model of ensuring that the investigations of murdered journalists do not die with them is not new to Latin America.

Local and national media in Colombia created El Proyecto Manizales in 2002 to investigate the murder of Orlando Sierra. The members later reconvened to continue reporting done by murdered journalist Guillermo Bravo, and then to help journalist Germán Hernández –threatened for investigations– to continue his reporting.

Also in Colombia, colleagues of young journalist Flor Alba Núñez Vargas –who was fatally shot upon walking into work in September 2015– created ¡Pitalito sin censura! (Pitalito uncensored!) to fight impunity in the case and to continue her reports.

Most recently, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) officially launched the Tim Lopes program, created to investigate murders, assassination attempts and abductions of media professionals and to continue their reports.

Lopes was a TV Globo investigative reporter who was brutally murdered in 2002 while working on a story about parties hosted by drug traffickers in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Like Abraji and the Tim Lopes Project, the team behind Forbidden Stories was inspired by the Arizona Project. This was a collaborative effort of U.S. journalists to investigate the death of reporter Don Bolles –who was killed in a car explosion in Phoenix in 1976– and to finish his investigations.

According to RSF’s count, 42 journalists, five non-professional journalists and eight media workers were murdered so far in 2017, and 183 journalists, 169 non-professional journalists and 13 media workers were detained. Additionally, the organization says 700 journalists have been killed because of their work over the past ten years.

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.