Radio host gunned down in Tabasco

New York, September 25, 2008–Mexican radio host Alejandro Zenón Fonseca Estrada was gunned down Tuesday as he was putting up anticrime posters in Villahermosa, capital of the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating possible links between Fonseca’s work as a journalist and his killing.

Four unidentified men riding in a van pulled alongside Fonseca, host of a morning talk show on EXA FM, as he was hanging the posters on a major street around 9 p.m. Tuesday, witnesses told local police and reporters. One of the posters read, “No to Kidnappings,” while another declared support for Tabasco’s governor, Andrés Granier Melo. Witnesses said the assailants berated Fonseca for the posters and then shot him at close range. Fonseca was taken to a local hospital, where he died from chest wounds early Wednesday, according to press reports. The assailants were said to be armed with AR-15 rifles.

Fonseca, known by the affectionate Mexican nickname, “The Godfather,” hosted the morning call-in show “El Padrino Fonseca” (The Godfather Fonseca), geared toward young listeners, for the past 10 years. Earlier this month, Fonseca had announced that he planned to put up the posters as part of his ongoing campaign against violence in Tabasco, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. It was not immediately clear whether Fonseca had received threats while waging his campaign on the radio. Colleagues told CPJ and the local press that Fonseca was a well-known and respected radio personality in Tabasco, especially among young listeners.

Local authorities have not identified any suspects.
Mexico ranks 10th on CPJ’s Impunity Index, a list of countries where journalists are slain on a recurring basis and governments consistently fail to solve the crimes. Under current law, state authorities generally investigate attacks on journalists. Because of the poor record of successful prosecutions, CPJ has urged that the federal government take over such investigations.

“We call on state and federal authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation that will bring all those responsible to justice,” said CPJ’s Americas Senior Program Coordinator, Carlos Lauría. “The time has come for the government of President Felipe Calderón and congressional leaders to reach a consensus and develop legislation that federalizes crimes against free expression and freedom of the press. The legislation must focus on broadly protecting freedom of expression as the wave of violence is inhibiting all Mexicans, including journalists, in communicating with each other.”

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America, CPJ research shows. In the last five years, as the war between powerful drug cartels has intensified, local journalists who report on organized crime and the drug trade are facing grave risks. Twenty-one journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, seven of them in direct reprisal for their work. Since 2005, seven others have gone missing.

One of the missing reporters, Rodolfo Rincón Taracena, disappeared on January 20, 2007, in Villahermosa after finishing a piece about local criminal groups attacking cash-machine customers. Rincón was a veteran crime reporter for the local daily Tabasco Hoy. In June, Juan Padilla, editorial director at the Villahermosa-based daily El Correo de Tabasco, was threatened in a note left outside the front door of the newspaper’s office building two days after a severed human head was found near the same spot. The note read “You’re next, Director.”