Journalists protest the murder of a Mexican journalist earlier this year. (AFP/Sergio Hernandez)
Journalists protest the murder of a Mexican journalist earlier this year. (AFP/Sergio Hernandez)

Mexico must back up federal measure to protect press

Using guns, grenades, explosives, and other deadly means, criminals have assaulted four Mexican newsrooms in less than six weeks. One of the country’s top journalists, Lydia Cacho, was the target of a chilling death threat last month. Journalists in Veracruz have gone missing or been killed this year. Press fatalities in Mexico remain among the highest in the world, leading to vast self-censorship. And the perpetrators? They are not only well organized and heavily armed, they enjoy near-complete impunity for their attacks on the press. Mexican lawmakers began to address the crisis this year, but now they risk losing the momentum.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California entered the debate. He noted that the Mexican Congress passed a landmark constitutional amendment this year granting federal authorities the power to prosecute crimes against the press. CPJ had long advocated for the legislation. But the constitutional amendment remains an empty decree until, as Schiff noted, the legislature passes follow-up laws to define the responsibilities of federal law enforcement agencies and provide them with the resources and training to investigate and bring to justice the criminals who attack free expression.

“When cartels can kill them with impunity, how can we expect journalists to expose their activities?” Schiff, founder and co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, wrote in an August 10 commentary in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “A law alone will not stop the violence, but it will let the cartels know that an attack on a journalist is an attack on a free Mexican society, and the attackers will be pursued with every resource the Mexican government can marshal.”

Schiff is also the author of the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which requires the State Department to document press freedom conditions worldwide, including violence against journalists. For CPJ and others monitoring press freedom conditions, the Mexican legislature can demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law and its citizens’ right to information by acting, now, to adopt the legislation needed to effectively combat anti-press crimes.