María Teresa Montaño, Mexico

International Press Freedom Awards

CPJ is honored to present its 2023 International Press Freedom Award to Mexican journalist María Teresa Montaño.

María Teresa Montaño is a prominent investigative reporter based in the State of Mexico, which neighbors Mexico City, and is one of the first reporters to actively investigate corruption, transparency, and accountability in a region where critical and independent reporting is rare. 

She is the founder and editor of The Observer, a fact-checking and investigative website. She previously worked as a contributor to the monthly investigative magazine Proceso, news wire Notimex, and prominent Mexico City newspapers El Universal, Milenio, and El Financiero.

María Teresa Montaño

Montaño covers politics, human rights, corruption, press freedom, and gender violence. Her work has led to frequent threats, surveillance, and harassment from state and local authorities as well as criminal groups. 

In 2021, three unidentified men abducted Montaño, then a freelance investigative reporter, as she attempted to board a public bus in a suburb of Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico.

The men held Montaño at gunpoint, blindfolded her, and took her to several ATMs where they forced her to withdraw money. They then commandeered her car, drove to her residence, and stole her phone, laptop, voice recorder, tablet, and a box carrying personal documents and notebooks she used for her work. The men threatened to kill Montaño if she reported the crime and drove her to the outskirts of Toluca, where they left her and stole her car.

Montaño told CPJ that, at the time of her abduction, she was working on a corruption investigation involving state officials. She said the men who abducted her stole notes and files concerning that investigation.

Following the incident, she left the country for a short period. She has since returned to Mexico and resumed working, despite the increasingly dangerous environment for reporters across the country. 

Honoring Montaño with this year’s IPFA is a powerful recognition of independent regional journalism in Mexico, where reporters often face extreme violence committed with impunity, and to Montaño’s unwavering commitment to the ideals of transparency and human rights in one of the most challenging regions in Mexico for the press.

[Editors’ note: This page has been updated to accurately reflect that Montaño is a former contributor to Proceso.]

The text of María Teresa Montaño’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

For the Spanish-language version of the speech as prepared for delivery, click here.

I’m from central Mexico, where I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, in a place with one of the most corrupt regimes on the planet, that has been in power for more than 90 years and where, despite a transition in power, justice continues to be for sale, poverty continues to be criminalized, the guilty are fabricated, the political and business elites siphon away public resources and where the independent press is something unusual.

For me, chronicling corruption in the State of Mexico has meant facing lawsuits, unlawful dismissals, spying, online lynching, governmental harassment to try and silence or buy me, at a cost for myself and my family.

My family was humble, my father an electrician and my mother a homemaker. I studied journalism, attending classes only on weekends and reading books. I nevertheless learned that journalism must be on the side of the people, as a social service that must contribute to democracy and the people. I cannot understand journalism any other way.

I am an anomaly of the system, because I survived the violence against journalists in Mexico, where bullying, harassment, lynchings in the media and online against journalists who inconvenience power and narco-politics. I am also battling against  isolation by government coercion, discrimination and being blocked from gathering information. Moreover, this happens to me for being a female investigative journalist and for “sticking my nose” into private business done by public power.

I was abducted in 2021. They promised that they would come back to kill me and my son. While I was held, without being able to move and with my face covered, I thanked God for the life that he gave me and asked him to take care of my children and also my brothers and sisters. I thought those were the last minutes of my life.

The kidnappers’ leader let me go, because he was tired. I could not even believe it. In the country of disappearances and the most absolute impunity, I was alive. That’s why I believe that I am a deviant of the system, a crack in the wall, exactly how I have done journalism these 30 years: by banging against the wall and looking for cracks.

I want to dedicate this award to the journalists in Mexico who, from their isolation, keep banging hard on those walls of authoritarianism, corruption, injustices and impunity. To those free journalists who topple walls with computer keystrokes..

I dedicate this award to freedom of expression and to those journalists who do not sell themselves and who are on the right side at crucial moments.

I also want to dedicate this award especially to Nina Lakhani and Martin Hodgson of The Guardian, and to Forbidden Stories, for holding on to me when everything seemed to stumble.

I am grateful to my team at The Observer Mex, where we build  journalism that surpasses local standards, with conviction, lots of scarcity, but free and dignified.

Thank you also to CPJ, and to all the organizations that have contributed to my safety during recent years and have made it possible for me to be here today, even though a death threat still hangs over my head and my abduction has not been investigated.

Thank you all. Infinite gratitude, always.