New York, January 7, 2009–Tuesday’s attack on broadcaster Televisa in the Mexican city of Monterrey underlines the need for a federal law that protects freedom of expression, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Legislation that would make violent crimes against journalists a federal offense is pending in the Mexican Congress.
During a live broadcast at 8:35 p.m. on Tuesday night, at least five masked gunmen riding in two pickup trucks fired high-caliber weapons and tossed a grenade outside the Televisa studios in Monterrey, in the northern state of Nuevo León, according to local and international news reports. The two news anchors asked the police for help on the air during the attack, the reports said.
Televisa’s news director in Monterrey, Francisco Cobos, told local reporters that the gunmen left a message on the windshield of one of the cars parked in the Televisa lot saying in Spanish: “Stop reporting on us. Also report on narco officials,” according to press reports.
“Drug traffickers are clearly using the media to spread a message of fear and terror and make clear to everyone that there will be consequences to reporting on their activities,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas senior program coordinator. “The government cannot allow criminals to intimidate the media into silence.”
No one was injured but at least six cars and the station’s front door were damaged, Cobos said. Federal and local police and the Mexican army immediately surrounded the building after the bombing, and, according to the national daily El Universal, the army was deployed to two other Monterrey TV stations, Azteca 7 and Canal 12 Multimedios. Federal authorities are investigating the attack, according to local news reports.
A bill that would amend the penal code to make it a federal crime to curtail an individual’s right to freedom of expression is set to be debated by Congress in the next month. “Mexicans urgently need a better legal framework to protect their basic human right to freedom of expression,” said Lauría. “The time has come for the Mexican government to take immediate action to insure that society can express itself without fear.”
Until recently, Monterrey was considered one of Mexico’s safest cities. But since early 2007, violence has spread as drug gangs, including the Gulf cartel’s enforcement arm, Los Zetas, have battled for control of Monterrey and its nearby drug route into Texas. In May 2007, a two-man crew for the national broadcaster TV Azteca disappeared, CPJ wrote in a 2008 special report, “The Disappeared.”
Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America, CPJ research shows. Since 2000, 24 journalists have been killed, at least eight in direct reprisal for their work. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005.