June 29, 2000
Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León
President of Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gratified that Mexican journalists have generally been able to cover the current election campaign without government interference. However, we would like to express our concern about a number of recent incidents.
- The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the independent federal agency that oversees elections, has noted that presidential candidate Vicente Fox and the National Action Party (PAN) are receiving a disproportionate amount of negative press coverage. On June 19, IFE president José Woldenberg announced that media coverage of presidential candidates was no longer balanced. In previous elections, monitoring groups such as Acción Cívica have documented disproportionate media coverage of presidential candidates from the ruling party. Unfortunately, due to its heavy dependence on government advertising, the Mexican press remains vulnerable to government pressure.
- Lilly Téllez, the news anchor at TV Azteca, was assaulted in Mexico City on June 22. Téllez was attacked at around 10 p.m., minutes after she wrapped up her broadcast and left the office in a chauffeur-driven car that was followed by two bodyguards in another car. When the two vehicles stopped at an intersection near the TV Azteca building, they were showered with bullets fired from the sidewalk by at least three men. Téllez escaped uninjured, but her two bodyguards and her chauffeur were hit by bullets. All remain hospitalized in stable condition. Téllez claims that she needs bodyguards because of threats from drug traffickers angered by her reporting. CPJ has called for a prompt and thorough investigation into this attack.
- The Mexico City Attorney General’s Office (PGJDF) has tried to force journalist Sergio Sarmiento to reveal how he obtained an interview with former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. In early June, Sarmiento was called in to testify about the killing of Paco Stanley, the TV Azteca comedian and variety show host who was murdered in June 1999, allegedly by drug traffickers. The PGJDF has argued that questioning Sarmiento was justified in light of the findings in the Paco Stanley murder investigation. But forcing the journalist to disclose how he obtained the Salinas de Gortari interview, which had no clear connection with the Paco Stanley case, is a violation of Sarmiento’s right to maintain the confidentiality of his sources.
- CPJ is disturbed by the prosecution of Melitón García, a reporter with the Monterrey-based daily El Norte. García was charged under Mexico’s federal electoral law for fraudulently obtaining a voter credential, after he published a two-part series in El Norte on May 16 and 17 that recounted his own efforts to obtain a voting credential using a false birth certificate. García could face up to six years in jail if convicted. In the article, García described how coyotes, or unofficial document expediters who congregate outside government offices, sell false birth certificates. IFE authorities referred the case to the special prosecutor for electoral offenses. Based on our analysis of the law, we believe that García could only be guilty of this crime if he had acted with criminal intent (dolo). Since García’s actions were motivated by a desire to inform the public about what he believed to be a pressing social problem, we firmly believe that no crime has been committed. While García’s journalistic methods have sparked an ethical debate among his colleagues, this is not a criminal matter.
- In addition to these incidents, CPJ is continuing to investigate the cases of two journalists who were murdered this year. On April 29, the body of radio reporter José Ramírez Puente was found in his car in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. He had been stabbed more than 30 times. On April 9, the body of Pablo Pineda, who covered crime for the Matamoros daily La Opinión, was dumped across the border in Los Indios, just outside Harlingen, Texas. The motives for both murders remain unclear. CPJ would welcome any new information on these two cases.
CPJ urges Your Excellency’s administration to maintain its commitment to ensuring that the Mexican press may function free of government interference, especially at this critical moment when Mexicans are preparing to elect a new president.