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The Tragedy of Journalism in Mexico

Journalism is facing a crisis in Mexico, leading to protests calling for an end to violence.

“A murdered journalist means one less voice in favor of the people.” These words, written in Spanish, were placed on a blanket outside a memorial for Javier Valdéz, a reporter for La Jornada who was murdered on May 15. He is the fourth journalist to be killed in Mexico this year and the second assaulted that day.

On May 16, hundreds of journalists gathered outside the attorney general’s office in three cities calling for justice. In the capital Mexico City, protesters held photos of the victims along with placards reading, “They are killing us.” Since President Enrique Peña Nieto entered office in 2012, 36 journalists have been killed and 23 are still missing.

PRESS FREEDOM IN MEXICO

Journalism is a risky profession as it can involve investigating and telling stories that many do not want to be told. As per the United Nations, more than 700 journalists have been killed in the line of duty over the past 10 years. This year alone has seen nine cases, according to Reporters Without Borders, including the deaths of Javier Valdéz and Miroslava Breach.

In Mexico, the situation is coming to a head. Four of the nine were killed in that country, while two died in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, Russia and Syria. Another report by the organization Article 19 says that every 22 hours, a member of the Mexican press suffers an attack.

The worst part is that 99.7% of those cases remain unpunished, according to the latest report by the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists. From 2010 to 2016, 798 formal investigations for crimes against the press were registered, but just 101 had the alleged perpetrator presented to court and only two were sentenced. In fact, 53% of attacks against journalists in 2016, including two extrajudicial executions, were committed by public servants, according to an annual report by Article 19. The state is believed to be the number one aggressor with 226 cases versus 17 by organized crime.

This partly explains why violence against journalists has kept growing despite the creation in 2012 of a special government office to protect human rights activists and journalists, along with the constant promises of President Peña Nieto to take action. The other reason comes from the inefficiency of these entities. Lines where no one answers, panic buttons without signals and cameras that take months to be installed characterize the experiences of those who have sought assistance from the office.

Given the situation, the efforts of agencies like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19 and Reporters Without Borders have not been enough to help journalists in trouble.

DYING FOR A DOLLAR

Attacks, impunity and the criminalization of journalism are not the only factors killing Mexican media. Low salaries and minimal security are also common. According to the Federal Labor Observatory, journalists earn around 10,000 pesos ($535) a month — enough for a single person but not a family. And that’s if you’re lucky: There are many like Gregorio Jiménez who, with five children and a wife depending on him, earned just 20 pesos ($1.05) per article — one of which got him killed in 2014.

Apart from the low pay, some media outlets do not provide security for their employees, even when sent on dangerous assignments. Journalists at La Jornada, for example, do not have life insurance even though two of the four journalists murdered this year worked for that organization.

An important aspect of the economic crisis that journalists face comes from the changes in the way people consume information due to social networks. Mistrust in traditional media has increased worldwide. The view of journalists as being subjective, corrupt or enslaved to power has become a dogma among the least rational part of society — Donald Trump’s outspokenness against liberal media proves this phenomena is not limited to Mexico. This portion of society is the least rational because its people do not realize that journalism is and will remain a fundamental tool for democracy.

In a world where “fake news” spreads with the speed of a virus and anyone with a smartphone has the ability to broadcast information of whatever quality, we need people who can verify the truth with a method, use reliable sources and make sense of facts through documented analysis. It is true that journalists (and media outlets) have a point of view that could define what they cover and how they do it — after all, they are people too. But with most journalists, those opinions will not be reflected in their work. Impartiality means looking for all the possible versions of truth that can be proven through objective and verified facts, in order to present the most genuine portrayal of reality.

Assaulting journalists and subjecting them to fear-based self-censorship means attacking our own fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So too does re-victimizing them and keeping quiet over the abuses they suffer.

Carmen Aristegui, a Mexican journalist who lost her job on the radio after investigating President Peña Nieto’s “White House,” said on May 16 in Mexico City: “We have to convince society that the death of a journalist is the death of society, it is the death of our liberties, it is the death of an attempt for democracy and for an harmonic life.” She also had it right when saying that today the portrait of Mexico has the face of a murdered journalist.

“You can kill journalists but you can’t kill the truth.” That is the hashtag — #NoSeMataLaVerdadMatandoPeriodistas — which represents the movement for press freedom in Mexico. The problem is that, even when truth is revealed, the voices of the world are usually dead, just as it was written on the memorial for Javier Valdéz.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Microgren