Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Mexico
As of December 31, 1998

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Compared to his predecessors, President Ernesto Zedillo has demonstrated a strong commitment to press freedom and tolerance for criticism, and journalists have made marked strides toward independence and enterprise during his tenure. But violence still plagues journalists working in the country: Luis Mario García Rodríguez, a reporter covering the drug trade, was murdered in February, and U.S. foreign correspondent Philip True was killed in December.

At year's end, CPJ was continuing to monitor the investigation into the murder of True, the Mexico correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News, who was strangled while reporting on the Huichol Indians in northwestern Mexico. In response to CPJ's request, President Zedillo committed the Mexican army to search for True when he was reported missing, and ordered federal authorities to provide logistical support for the murder investigation.

In late December, Mexican authorities arrested two Indians whom they claimed had confessed to murdering True because he had taken photographs without their permission. When the two men were brought into court, however, they acknowledged killing True but said they had acted in self-defense. They also said they had been tortured by Mexican authorities.

García, a police reporter who worked for the Mexico City daily La Tarde, was shot dead on a downtown street corner in apparent retaliation for his reporting on corruption.

More than a year after the assassination attempt on Jesús Blancornelas in Tijuana, which left the editor of the weekly Zeta gravely wounded and his bodyguard dead, there have been no significant advances in the investigation, despite the fact that a gunman killed at the scene was identified as a member of the Tijuana drug cartel. Blancornelas, who made a full recovery from his injuries, has published detailed descriptions and photos of those believed responsible for the attacks.

Drug trafficking, police corruption, and civil conflict in southern Mexico continue to be the most dangerous assignments for reporters. Journalists, particularly foreign journalists, working in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero have to contend with delays, interrogation, and occasional detentions at government roadblocks. Local consulates also discourage U.S. journalists with lengthy waiting periods for visas and demands for information on local contacts. The Mexican federal government has repeatedly assured CPJ that the visa delays and requests for sources' names are unauthorized.

An attempt to reform and update Mexico's press law -- which defines defamation as a criminal offense punishable by up 18 months in prison -- was scuttled in October by media owners, who objected to provisions calling for a government commission to oversee media concessions. But many Mexican journalists say that media owners blocked the legislation because it would have required them to publicize the amount of government advertising they receive. Mexican newspapers often publish government advertising disguised as news reports.

Mexican journalists have made significant strides in self-defense. The Sociedad de Periodistas, a press freedom group formed in late 1997, and incorporated in 1998, has already made an impact. The group was active in demanding security for poet and newspaper columnist Homero Aridjis, who received repeated death threats after he spoke out about the lack of press freedom in Mexico. The group has also pressured the Mexican government to continue the investigation into the attack on Blancornelas, and has petitioned the government for a complete investigation into True's murder.
Attacks on the Press in Mexico in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
12/04/98 Philip True, San Antonio Express-News Killed
08/17/98 Homero Aridjis, Reforma Threatened
07/13/98 Héctor Gutiérrez, Crónica Threatened
06/05/98 Pascual Gorriz, Associated Press Harassed
05/29/98 Reyes Héctor Suárez Olvera, Televisa Attacked
04/12/98 Oriana Elicabe, Agence France-Press Attacked
04/12/98 Pascual Gorriz, Associated Press Attacked
03/22/98 Leoncio Aguilar Márquez, El Sudcaliforniano Harassed
03/22/98 Mario Alberto García, El Sudcaliforniano Harassed
03/22/98 Luis Miguel Salazar, El Sudcaliforniano Harassed
03/04/98 Janet Schwartz, Novedades and Tabasco Hoy Attacked
03/04/98 Julia Preston, The New York Times Attacked
02/12/98 Luis Mario García Rodríguez, La Tarde Killed
02/11/98 Héctor Gutiérrez, Crónica Threatened

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