Proposed changes to Mexico’s right to reply would increase burden on media

Mexico City, November 4, 2016­–The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern today over proposed changes to Mexico’s media regulations that could force the press to publish or broadcast more replies to news stories. The changes are due to be voted on by the country’s Supreme Court November 7.

The draft ruling, viewed by CPJ, would broaden individuals’ right to reply publicly to media reports. Currently, courts can demand that the press publishes or airs a correction or counter claim from individuals who say they have been harmed by false reporting. If at least eight of the 11 justices approve the ruling, the words in Article 3 of the law that grants the right to reply only for “inaccurate or false information” would be scrapped.

The proposed changes were drafted by Justice Alberto Pérez Dayán, who argues in the draft that the current wording is unconstitutional because it does not address possible bias or prejudice by an author or publication, especially in a political context. According to the draft, during elections the power to demand that the press responds to a right to reply will be extended from the courts to include electoral bodies such as the National Electoral Institute and the Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch.

“We are alarmed by the prospect of forcing the media to publish or broadcast replies to news stories under a broader set of parameters,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, in New York. “This could open the floodgates for politicians and others to demand space in newspapers whenever they feel slighted or aggrieved.”

The draft ruling is based on a complaint filed in December 2015 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, leader of the leftist Movement for National Regeneration (Morena) party, and Agustín Basave Benítez, then leader of the Party for the Democratic Revolution. In the draft ruling, the Morena party argues that individuals should have just as much freedom in contesting published or broadcasted information as the media have in spreading it.

Journalists consulted by CPJ and local and international press freedom groups say the proposal could be used to silence critical outlets and that it will leave the press vulnerable to lawsuits and pressure to provide more space in publications or broadcasts for individuals demanding the right to reply.

In a statement published November 2, the Inter American Press Association, an organization that represents the region’s editors and publishers, said the ruling could lead to “prior censorship through a wave of lawsuits that would be filed by officials and political leaders.”

Catalina Botero, a former rapporteur on freedom of expression at the Organization of American States, told CPJ the draft ruling contradicts the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ declaration of principles. The declaration states that “the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression.” Botero, now dean at los Andes University’s law school in Bogotá, Colombia, told CPJ, “There is no objective criteria to define a grievance,” and that “officials are obligated to tolerate [grievances] because they are subject to a higher level of public scrutiny.”