Freedom of the Press in Mexico

In 2014 Mexico was one of the most dangerous places for media workers to be. Freedom of the press in Mexico faced new threats when the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act was adopted. Journalists and media outlets received multiple attacks, reporters faced police brutality when they covered protests and self-censorship was widespread.

The Ley Telecom also referred to as the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act was signed by President Enrique Pena Nieto in July of 2014. It was intended to make it easier for competition between television stations and telecommunications providers. Criticism of this Act was that it threatened freedom of expression. It gives the government the power to shut down telecommunications if they feel it will prevent crime with incredibly vague wording.

The Act also gives the government the ability to geo-locate and track mobile phone use and requires internet companies to retain data on users without judicial oversight. This in simple terms allows the government the ability to monitor whistle blowers, realize journalist’s sources and find individuals when they engage in political expression.

Those with concerns regarding the Act stated the competition in the telecom and broadcast sectors would still only benefit a small handful of commercial groups and leave the noncommercial stations in a very precarious legal financial position. The Mexico chapter of the World Association of Community Radio Operators (AMARC) criticized this Act and called it a step backwards. They filed a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the Act.

In recent years press freedom organizations and journalists who operate in Mexico have faced increased intimidation. The home of press freedom watchdog, Dario Ramirez was broke into and his documents and computer were stolen. This theft occurred just a few days before Article 19 released its annual report on media freedom in Mexico. At the same time, Reporters Without Borders journalist Balbina Flores Martinez was threatened.

There are hundreds of attacks made on journalists and press outlets every year in Mexico. Many of them are brought on by corrupt or abusive government officials. Assaults and detentions are inflicted upon journalists and media workers quite often. During the coverage of the many protests focused on grave human rights abuse of the Ley Telecom, they were held in detentions in large numbers.

Within the last seven years 35 journalists have been killed and another 6 have gone missing. The latest killing of a journalist was a mother of two who was only 27 years old. She had been continuing a story of crimes against the press. A group of armed men drug Anabel Flores Salazar from her home claiming they had a warrant for her arrest. She was later found dead alongside the highway in a neighboring state.

There is a pattern seen from the state government regarding journalists who turn up dead. Within hours of the news release about their murder, Governor Javier Duarte releases a statement condemning the reporter and alleges ties to criminal groups. This is clearly an attempt to lead blame away from the government. This release immediately tarnishes the journalist’s reputation.

Until things change, journalists in Mexico will be vulnerable while doing their work. Many may reconsider doing their jobs in Mexico with the increased high risk of harm or death. There may be others who will continue to protect themselves with self-censorship or just not take the risky stories. Still others may just omit their bylines to keep attention away from them.