Mexican President Lopez Obrador′s rhetoric ′emboldens other civil servants′ to attack press | DW Freedom | Speech. Expression. Media. | DW | 12.09.2019

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DW Freedom

Mexican President Lopez Obrador's rhetoric 'emboldens other civil servants' to attack press

The continued attacks on the press by the president are inciting others in Mexico to follow suit, the NGO Article 19 has argued. The organization claims that 11 journalists have been murdered since he took office.

Journalist Carolina Tiznado, a correspondent for the daily Noroeste in Escuinapa, a city in the western state of Sinaloa, has been the victim of a harassment campaign on social media. The media outlet has requested local authorities provide security for the journalist and her family and to investigate the campaign to discredit her.

Noroeste warned that the attacks are coming from fake accounts and that an interaction between these accounts and municipal officials has been detected. It also condemned the mayor of Escuinapa, Emmett Soto Grave, for publicly discrediting the journalist when he stated that she "could be a good mother or housewife, but not a journalist."

Organizations like Article 19 consider this to be a clear example of how governors and other authorities across Mexico's different states are emulating President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's style of speech, which makes journalists more vulnerable and increases the risks they face.

Mexiko | Präsident Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador campaigned on a press-friendly platform

"President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador constantly stigmatizes the press in his morning press conferences, which emboldens other civil servants to attack journalists" who make things uncomfortable for them, said Ana Cristina Ruelas, the director of Article 19 in Mexico and Central America.

The organization has documented similar cases in other municipalities in Sinaloa and Veracruz, two of the deadliest states for informers in Mexico. Ruelas laments that high-level public officials provide no counter-narrative to the presidential message. "Publicly recognizing the work of journalists should be the first step taken under the Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists," Ruelas said, referring to a federal initiative to protect journalists and human rights workers who face threats due to their work.

Read more: Mexican journalist murdered on her doorstep

Civil servants, primary aggressors

In a biannual report published on September 1, Article 19 warned that ten journalists had been murdered in 2019 to date, seven between January to July and three more in August. Additionally, a total 249 aggressions against journalists, including the murders, were registered in the first half of the year, with some 42% of these coming from state employees.

Screenshot reporting murder of journalist from Tabasco Hoy

Norma Sarabia was one of 10 journalists killed in Mexico in 2019

"These figures tell us that there are institutional mechanisms or public officials who are using their power and the state apparatus to act against the press. This is why the link between politicians and organized crime is the most complicated subject for the press," the director of Article 19 said.

The expert explained that violence and the harassment of journalists is not the only problem. "In some states journalists face public policies that limit freedom of expression. In Coahuila, for example, there are 'criminal offences' that can be used by the state itself to de facto inhibit freedom of the press."

The organization Reporters without Borders warned in a statement that the number of journalists killed in the first half of 2019 surpassed the total for all of 2018, making Mexico the most dangerous place in the world for the press. The organization has urged the Mexican government to improve the Mechanism for Protection of Journalists, which was created in 2012. According to official figures, 337 journalists and 635 human rights activists fall under the Mechanism for Protection of the Defenders of Human Rights and Journalists.

Read more: ICC to examine Mexican ex-presidents' guilt in over 100 journalist murders 

2019: The most violent year for journalists?

"If the trend continues, this will become the worst year for violence against journalists in memory," warned Alejandro Hope, a security analyst. The expert warned that the protection mechanism does not have a risk map that would allow authorities to take preventive measures. "Working in [the states of] Tamaulipas and Veracruz is not the same thing," he said. "The second problem is that it [the mechanism] does not have enough resources, neither material, nor human nor financial."

Cameras atop pictures of murdered journalists

11 journalists have been murdered since Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018

At the request of the Mexican government itself, Jan Jarab, the UN Human Rights office's representative in Mexico, presented an evaluation of the mechanism's functioning on August 26. Its conclusions highlighted serious budget and institutional shortcomings."The institutional agreement should be generated and communicated by the presidency of the republic and the Ministry of the Interior, and it should be adopted and replicated by state governments and the heads of federal institutions," the evaluation's recommendations read.

Organizations such as Article 19 agree with the UN's assessment. "There has to be a comprehensive protection policy and state policies that guarantee freedom of expression," Ruelas confirmed. "This implies [a need for] legal reform at the state and federal levels but also much more decisive action on the part of public prosecutors to punish the perpetrators of attacks."  

An end to impunity is essential in the cases of murdered journalists. Hope emphasized that none of the pending investigations have been launched. "Not in the iconic cases, like those of Javier Valdez or Miroslava Breach," he said, referring to two prominent investigative journalists murdered in 2017. "It doesn't seem as if they've allocated enough resources, so there is no effective protection for those who are alive but at risk, nor are there investigations of those who have already died," Hope added.