CPJ calls for President Lopez Obrador to strengthen press freedom in Mexico

July 26, 2019 11:40 AM ET

July 26, 2019


Gobierno de México
Presidencia de la República
Palacio Nacional
Plaza de la Constitución s/n
Colonia Centro
Alcaldía Cuauthémoc
C.P. 06066
Ciudad de México
México

Sent via email

Dear President Lopez Obrador,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent press freedom advocacy organization based in New York, and the Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), based in Mexico City, write to you to urge you to redouble your efforts to strengthen press freedom in Mexico.

On June 18, CPJ organized the Mexico Press Freedom Summit, which brought together 400 people at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City to discuss concrete solutions to Mexico's press freedom crisis. The timing could not be more urgent: Mexico is the deadliest country in the hemisphere for reporters in 2019, it has the highest number of disappeared reporters in the world, and nearly all crimes against the press remain unpunished.

We believe that your government has a historic opportunity to address a crisis that has plagued the country for decades. While your predecessors made promises about press freedom, passed laws, and set up institutions, they also spied on journalists, leveraged government advertising to censor reporters, and dragged their feet on substantive investigations into the murders of reporters, sometimes with the direct alleged participation of members of their own political parties.

Your administration promised to be different, and we believe it can be.

We were disappointed that you never responded to our repeated invitations to the summit. In your morning press conference on June 19, you said that we were "organizing roundtables to talk about how my administration is limiting press freedom." We respectfully disagree and would urge you to watch the discussions from the summit: the purpose was one of constructive engagement and open dialogue between civil society, journalists, and your government. We all agree that this crisis needs to be addressed and that time is running out.

We were impressed by the candor of Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas, who, at the summit, linked the violence against the press not only to organized crime, but to state actors in Mexico.

In that spirit, we urge you to take the following steps to address Mexico's press freedom crisis:

  1. We urge you to put forward a plan for press freedom under the new federal prosecutor's office

The reform of the federal prosecutor's office gives an unprecedented opportunity to make structural changes to combat impunity. It is vital that the vice-prosecutor for human rights, who will be named later this summer, recognizes press freedom as a priority. The new unit that will handle crimes against journalists and is set to replace the office of the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) must have adequate funding, expertise, and sufficient personnel. Its specific role within the new structure of the prosecutor's office must be clear.

  1. The federal prosecutor's office must fully investigate crimes against journalists and exercise its power to federalize cases

There has not been a single case in decades in which the Mexican government has brought to justice both the direct perpetrators and those behind the wider conspiracy in the killing of a journalist. Your government should work together with the prosecutor's office to make sure it prioritizes crimes against journalists in its new structure. We are deeply concerned that the prosecutor's office has resisted investigating crimes against journalists on the federal level, even when this is clearly needed, despite having the broad capacity to do so. The reform process of the prosecutor's office provides the institution with a unique opportunity to break with tradition and assume its responsibility by federalizing cases of attacks against the press when warranted.

  1. Your government should reform federal spending on advertising

We are concerned that the discretionary nature and lack of objective criteria for federal spending on government advertisements remain unaddressed. The general guidelines outlined by the office of the presidency regarding such advertisements are a welcome step in the right direction, and your administration, specifically your spokesperson Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, has stressed the need to reform the current General Social Communication Law, as has your party's faction in Congress. No meaningful steps for reform have been taken thus far, however. Your government should work together with Congress to discuss and pass a bill to regulate government advertising proposed by Medios Libres, a group of civil society groups, journalists, and media owners.

  1. The Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists must have adequate funding, training, and personnel

More than 300 journalists are enrolled in the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. While the mechanism is a vital tool that has improved the lives of many reporters and rights defenders, the institution's functioning has been hampered by a lack of personnel, funding, and training. Your government should increase the funding of the Human Rights Unit of the Interior Secretariat, which operates the mechanism, and ensure that enough resources are transferred to the mechanism's federal trust fund for it to implement adequate safety measures for its beneficiaries. At least four journalists who were enrolled in the mechanism have been murdered in the last three years. Your administration should commit to a transparent investigation of what went wrong in these cases and publicize the findings.

  1. Your government should pass reforms to prevent illegal surveillance

Mexico has become internationally infamous for the illegal surveillance of journalists and human rights workers, most notably via the software known as Pegasus, which was allegedly used by the administration of your predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto to spy on journalists and activists. Your government must guarantee an independent and transparent investigation of the Pegasus case and should put forth an autonomous institution to strengthen the oversight and control of surveillance technology.

Mr. President, you assumed office seven months ago with overwhelming popular support, enjoying the broadest mandate in decades. Throughout your political career, you have engaged with the media and have recognized the role that journalists have played in the consolidation of Mexico's democracy. The name of the coalition that brought you into office is "Together We'll Make History." Should your administration choose to make the lives of journalists safer and make the Mexican press freer, your government will have truly been transformational.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Luis Fernando García
Executive Director
Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D)

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