Mexico, deadliest country for journalism: murder of journalists off charts in 2020

The country is victim to a wave of organized crime; drug cartels holding impunity allegedly go hand-in-hand with operations of State  

VISHRUTHI GIRISH | February 10, 2021

The number of journalist murders in Mexico reached at an all-time high in the year 2020 – amounting to nine journalists, with a total of 133 journalists having been killed in the country since 2000. It is regarded the “world’s most dangerous country for journalists”, ranking 149th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index and third in number of journalist murders after Syria and Afghanistan.

Journalists and media organizations in Mexico have been subjected to censorship, life threats and murders for reportage on organized crime and issues like embezzlement of public funds, land alienation of indigenous tribes and mining. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2010 stated that Mexico is “one of the worst nations in solving crimes against journalists”.

What does the Mexican Constitution say about freedom of expression?

A Federal Presidential Democratic Republic, Mexico in legislations passed through Articles 6 and 7 of its Constitution, expression and of press. Article 6 reads “expression of ideas shall not be subject to any judicial or administrative investigation, unless it offends good morals, infringes the rights of others, incites to crime, or disturbs the public order”, and Article 7 deems freedom of writing and publishing as “inviolable”, thus condemning censorship.

Protection measures for journalists vary across states

The country comprises of 32 federal entities — 31 states and the capital Mexico City, collectively called “The United States of Mexico”. Each state has varying laws and regulations regarding freedom of speech and expression – 11 states have laws that have established protection mechanisms for endangered journalists; 11 states have unapproved protection initiatives and seven have no proposed legislation for protection of journalists.

Incidentally, the state of Honduras that reported maximum killings of journalists in the year 2020 is governed by right-wing leaders who are alleged to have associations with the leading drug cartels in the country.  

Who owns the media in Mexico?

A report by the Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) states that ownership of media organizations in Mexico is highly concentrated and upheld by some of the country’s richest businessmen who have links with the State. Of the 42 media outlets analysed, 38 were shown to receive State sponsorship for advertising, and half the budget is allocated only to top ten business groups despite competition among more than a thousand firms.

What did these journalists report about?

Crimes in Mexico have been committed majorly due to conflicts between rival drug trafficking networks who then commit homicides and inflict harm upon journalists and media organizations who attempt to cover them. “We still have the same situation of impunity, of violence, of collusion between authorities and criminal groups, and that makes us very concerned,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Mexico representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Journalists say that the perpetual vulnerability of the media in Mexico stems from impunity, with about 90% cases of violence against journalists going unreported. The cases that do reach court and end in persecution of the criminal, punish the employed gunmen but fail to investigate into the employers of these assassins.

What does the President feel about press freedom?

The situation was expected to improve after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s reassuring public statement on being elected to office in 2018, promising protection of journalists. However, violence against the media continues to stay on the rise despite his promises, and the President’s stance on press freedom was questioned when he publicly slammed news organizations that expressed dissent against his governance.  

President Obrador has also made statements in the past supporting former US President Donald Trump, when the latter’s Twitter handle was temporarily suspended due to the alleged spread of misinformation.

What are the measures taken by the government?

The Federal Protection Mechanism of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, formed by the federal Interior Secretariat of Mexico in 2016, was created with an aim to curb violence against journalists, represent their needs legally and prevent further crimes. However, the institution has been rife with criticism for being heavily understaffed, underfunded and for its slow receptivity to everyday crimes. Moreover in 2020, reports by the CPJ suggest that the Mexico Congress led by President Obrador proposed to abolish the 54 federal trust funds that were allocated to manage the Mechanism.