Opinion: Mexico, where freedom of the press is being killed | Opinion | DW | 06.08.2015
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Opinion: Mexico, where freedom of the press is being killed

Another murdered journalist. That's four this year and over 80 in the last decade. But it's not happening in a civil war or dictatorship; it's happening in Mexico. That is unworthy of a democracy, says Uta Thofern.

Mexico is near the top of several different types of lists: The second largest country in Latin America is the world's 10th largest oil exporter, its 14th largest economy, and also its fourth largest automobile exporter. Mexico is a confident industrial nation, a free-trade pioneer, and not least, it is the largest democracy in the region.

However, on the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, Mexico ranks 148 of 180, with Cuba being the only other Latin American country ranked lower. But Mexico is deadlier. Here, journalists are not simply "hindered" in their work, nor are they censored or jailed for unfavorable reporting, in Mexico they are tortured and killed.

For journalists, Mexico is one of the deadliest countries on the planet. It is a nation where most crimes are never solved, never atoned for. That impunity is evidence that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press in Mexico is not worth the paper it is written on.

And that, despite the fact that three years ago the Mexican government passed a law specifically designed to protect human rights activists and journalists, along with creating a prosecuting authority to investigate crimes against freedom of speech. The result: a bureaucratic monstrosity that has done absolutely nothing to change the situation. Whoever has the temerity to report critically on organized crime, to name names, or to bring criminal offenses to light, can count on dying a violent death in Mexico.

Farewell Tweet

Thofern Uta Kommentarbild App

DW's Uta Thofern

Unforgotten is the case of journalist María del Rosario Fuentes. She used a Twitter account registered under a pseudonym to record and publish violent crime statistics and to encourage victims to inform and publish their own experiences. After being kidnapped, she revealed her name and bid her family farewell in a final Tweet – after which, her killers then used the account to tweet a picture of her dead body.

In such a context, phrases like civic engagement and civil courage quickly become alien concepts. In Mexico, it isn't the state itself that keeps journalists and online activists from reporting, and it is not the state that systematically hunts them down. But the state fails to provide any effective protection for journalists and many of these activists and reporters have been bullied by representatives of the state.

Thus, a climate of fear and self-censorship has evolved, where freedom of speech is simply a mirage. This in turn, becomes a vicious circle, because a functioning democracy needs informed and engaged citizens. And a state that wants to wield its legitimate use of force cannot do so without dependable security forces that the citizenry can trust.

Ineffective laws

Mexico has had neither of these for quite some time. The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has introduced many reforms, such as the previously mentioned laws for the protection of freedom of speech and the press, but these have had little effect. Recently the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights attested that important steps were being taken in the drafting of laws.

But even the most eloquent laws mean nothing if they are not enforced. Not only journalists, but also far too many everyday Mexicans have been forced to accept the fact that for the longest time neither the constitution nor the laws of the land have been upheld. This, in a country where there is no civil war and no dictatorship – where the German economy does a thriving business, and innumerable German tourists love to go on vacation.

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