The debate begins in Mexico

Last month, veteran crime reporter Armando Rodríguez was gunned down in Ciudad Juárez on the Texas border, sparking another round of hand-wringing about the relentless violence that is suffocating critical journalism in Mexico. Rodríguez’s brutal murder sparked coverage in the U.S. media as well, including pieces in The Washington Post and NPR.

According to CPJ research, Rodríguez is the 24th journalist to be killed in Mexico in the last eight years, at least seven of whom have been slain in direct reprisal for their reporting. This is a figure one would associate with a war zone–not a vital democracy like Mexico.

CPJ, along with a range of international and domestic press groups in Mexico, have long insisted that the federal government must step in to help address the problem. Freedom of expression is a basic human right, guaranteed by Mexico’s constitution. It’s a right that Mexicans are unable to exercise in practice because of the record level of violence. State authorities have not successfully prosecuted any of these killings, which is not surprising given evidence of complicity with local drug cartels. This is a problem crying out for a federal solution.

A delegation from CPJ raised this concern in meetings last June with Calderón and with Congressional representatives. In the last few weeks, the executive and legislative branches have put forward competing proposals to federalize crimes against freedom of expression, a move that CPJ applauds.

In meeting with the CPJ delegation, Calderón pledged to put forward a proposal that would federalize crimes against freedom of expression in the context of constitutional amendments intended to address the spiraling violence affecting many sectors of society. Carlderón kept the promise. Here is a version of the proposal in Spanish

We sympathize with the president’s desire to broadly protect all Mexican citizens, but we remain concerned that the language used in the proposed legislation, which would allow the federal government to step in whenever a crime has “social relevance,” is overly vague and could lend itself to misinterpretation or even abuse.

The congressional proposal takes a different approach; here is an official Spanish version. It would change the penal code to make it a federal crime to curtail an individual’s right to freedom of expression. The proposed legislation would also reform the office of the special prosecutor for crimes against journalists by making it a dependency of the attorney general’s office. The special prosecutor’s office, created in February 2006, has been ineffective.

These two proposals have already sparked a vigorous and productive debate about an issue of pressing importance to Mexico and the United States. It is encouraging that the president and the Congress recognize the scale of the problem and are now prepared to take action to address it. We know a new law will not stop the violence, but it will send a message to journalists that their political leaders recognize the gravity of the situation and will create political accountability at the federal level, something that has been lacking up till now.

Lea aquí la versión en español de esta nota.