Reporters Without Borders and eight human rights groups gave a news conference today about an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing on the press freedom situation in Mexico that was held at their request in Washington on 18 July. They presented their findings at the hearing and submitted detailed requests to the Mexican government, which took part.
“We first of all hail the active participation of Mexican civil society and NGOs in this initiative with the IACHR, which had all the more impact for being a joint one,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The support of the other groups was essential for us, and together we must ensure that our requests are acted on. This is the challenge.”
The press freedom organisation continued: “The undertakings given by the Mexican government as a result of the 18 July hearing go some way to meeting our expectations. Their implementation depends, among other things, on the government keeping its promise to involve all of us organisations and the IACHR.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The future of press freedom in Mexico depends on the journalists and the media themselves, and their ability to unite in the face of the physical violence targeted against them. Furthermore, we are aware that the fight for press freedom in Mexico is also closely linked to the fight against what endangers it - organised crime.”
The eight human rights groups which, together with Reporters Without Borders, presented a joint report to the IACHR were the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), the National Centre for Social Communication (Cencos), Article 19, Freedom of Information in Mexico, the Manuel Buendía Foundation, the National Union of Press Reporters, the Mexican Network for Protecting Journalists and Communication Media and the Transparency Collective.
Among other things, they called for increased resources for the Special Federal Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Journalists (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra Periodistas - FEADP), which was created on 15 February 2006, and for a proper follow-up in the investigations into 11 recent cases of murders or disappearances of journalists. They also insisted on the need for Mexico’s legislation to be adapted to international standards on electronic and community media.
At the end of the hearing, the Mexican government undertook to:
take all necessary measures to shed light on murders, disappearances and physical violence against journalists, and to study the possibility of reinforcing the prerogatives of the FEADP and the handling of this kind of case at the federal level;
report to the IACHR in the next few months on the progress made in these investigations;
guarantee broad participation by specialised organisations in following up on the investigations;
accept the IACHR’s support in the drafting of a new law on the electronic media;
work to promote recognition of community media in this law, in accordance with international standards.
The IACHR requested a full report on the most serious cases from the Mexican government, which agreed in principle to an official visit by the commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Mexico has become the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for the press, with a total of 32 journalists murdered and seven disappeared since 2000. With nine journalists murdered in 2006, it ranked second only to Iraq worldwide.
Two journalists have been killed since the start of this year - Televisa’s correspondent in Acapulco, Amado Ramírez, who was gunned down on 6 April, and reporter Saúl Martínez Ortega of the Diario de Agua Prieta newspaper, who was found dead six days later in the state of Sonora. Three others have disappeared - Rodolfo Ricón Taracena, the editor of the regional daily Tabasco Hoy, missing since 20 January, and Gamaliel López and Gerardo Paredes of TV Azteca Noroeste, who went missing on 10 May in Monterrey.
Aside from the impunity surrounding these murders and the many cases of threats and attacks on journalists and news media, press freedom is also restricted, especially at the local level, by a high degree of self-censorship, the threat of the withdrawal of state advertising and obstacles to the functioning of community media.