Zeta magazine reports alleged smear campaign against journalists by authorities in Baja California, Mexico

Adela Navarro Bello, co-director of Mexican weekly Zeta, which is based in the state of Baja California, denounced an alleged plan by state authorities to carry out a smear campaign against her.

In an editorial on Nov. 4, “Investigative journalism vs. smear campaigns,” Navarro Bello claimed to have received information from different people and by different means about this alleged smear campaign against her that was rumored to be led by the state governor, Francisco Vega de Lamadrid. She added that it was mentioned in some cases that the campaign included journalist Dora Elena Cortés Juarez of Agencia Fronteriza de Noticias (AFN).

According to Navarro Bello, the campaign would publish “disgraces” about her private life. The alleged existence of a campaign was also reported in other newspapers such as El Mexicano, El Informador, site AFN Noticias, Radio Enciso and social networks, she added.

Navarro Bello also said that journalists in the state have been victims of defamation for three years, starting when the current governor began his term. “It could be a coincidence or a premeditated act, but this has happened,” she wrote.

“If the issue that concerns them is journalistic, we are at their service, publicly in the same place where this journalistic project started 36 years ago. We do not hide nor turn to anonymity. We are responsible, we use bylines, we support what has been published here by a team of editors, reporters and photographers,” she wrote in the editorial.

She also said that they are available to receive information and clarification and are even willing to hear if they want a right to reply, although she said the authorities always refuse to give statements to the media outlet.

According to the director, the reasons for this campaign could be the publications that the weekly has done about the mismanagement of government administration and irregular behavior denounced by the Secretary of Economy Development, among other articles.

Finally, she assured that they will continue with their work as they have faced other types of obstacles in the past as well: they have been threatened by drug traffickers, and have been pressured by politicians and other leaders.

“To those who, from anonymity, with public resources and government infrastructure, try to pressure in order to stop the publication of irregularities, we tell them that we at ZETA will continue, beyond threats, doing investigative journalism, responding to citizen reports, close to society and far from the government,” the editorial concluded.

In a Nov. 5 article, Zeta also said that at an event organized by the governor, he refused to answer questions about this alleged defamation campaign.

In a press release, the State Commission of Human Rights of Baja California (CEDHBC for its acronym in Spanish) announced that it has opened a file “to investigate possible violations of human rights of journalists of the entity,” after this campaign was reported in different media outlets.

“We contacted the journalists who have been the target of this threat against their rights to freely exercise their profession,” said the head of the state’s human rights commision, Melba Adriana Olvera, according to the release. “The intention is for journalists in our state to keep in mind that they have the backing of the CEDHBC and to prove that some government authorities threaten fundamental rights, we will raise our voice.”

The Commission added that it would remain vigilant of these cases, although it did not specifically refer to any media outlet.

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.