Mexico’s Journalists Move to Secure Press Freedom

Dangerous Assignments

Mexico is experiencing an unprecedented period of rapid democratization. For the first time in modern history, citizens have participated in reasonably clean elections, with space for opposition parties. The mass media have been part of this openingÑpulling away from patterns of complaisance and collusion with those in power, pluralizing opinions and perspectives, and shining a light on the workings of government. The vast majority of revelations about official corruption arise not from the justice system, but in the pages of newspapers. Those who hold political power have lost the traditional mechanisms for controlling the press, and the shift toward a freer press has translated into growing hostility toward journalists.

Despite the enormous political opening in the last two years, Mexico is still an extremely dangerous place. Journalists still die because of their work. Attacks on the press come from a variety of directions:

  • Old-style political bosses in small and medium-sized cities who resist the push toward openness from the local press
  • Security agents who work for high-ranking politicians who try to protect their bosses, often on their own initiative
  • Corrupt police officers angry because of the spotlight on their practices
  • Drug cartels that want to continue to operate with impunity

Alarmed by mounting violence against the press, about 30 top Mexican journalists met last November, with the help of various international institutions such as CPJ, the Freedom Forum, and Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). The outcome was the formation of a committee charged with creating an association for the protection of journalists. Several days later, one of the members of the planning committee, Jesœs Blancornelas, editor of the weekly Zeta  in Tijuana, was ambushed and riddled with automatic gunfire that killed his driver. There was never more palpable evidence of the need for an organization to protect Mexico’s journalists.

Miraculously, Blancornelas recovered to participate six months later in the founding of La Sociedad de Periodistas (Society of Journalists), an organization dedicated to monitoring, publicizing, and ensuring official accountability for physical or legal attacks against journalists. An independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan association that does not accept government funds, its tools include the ability to investigate these attacks, report them to the national and international media, and demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice. It will model its procedures and strategies on similar organizations in other countries.

Journalists’ best defense against violent reprisal is to make sure that the punishment of these crimes is swift and certain. In the past, wrong-doers saw violence as the surest route to silence the press. They will now see that an attack on a journalist will provoke more media attention, not less, to the stories they’re seeking to suppress. Our work is to convince Mexican society that an attack against a journalist is an attack against the whole society and its right to be well-informed.