Imprisonment for press offences is still a major problem in Mexico, along with breaches of confidentiality of sources. Four of the five journalists arrested in 2003 had had defamation complaints made against them. None was actually given a prison sentence, but locking up a journalist for libel for even a short time is such a disproportionate reaction that it intimidates the rest of the media. The government should stop jailing journalists for press offences and use only civilian forms of punishment. Articles 350 to 363 of the penal code still provide for two-year prison terms for this type of offence.
Attacks on press freedom mainly affect local and regional media. Nineteen of the 20 or so incidents reported in 2003 involved local media, and most cases of physical attacks on journalists, threats and obstruction came from politicians or police officers who found media criticism hard to take. This highlighted a dearth of democracy in the regions. Another problem is the lack of legislation governing community radio stations, three of which were closed at the end of the year.
The national media, which because they have more clout are less often victims of repression, could do more to help build press freedom: showing support for local journalists suffering threats and harassment and putting pressure on the relevant authorities. This would also help strengthen democracy. Too few newspapers took up the case of missing journalist Jesús Mejía Lechuga, even though no serious investigation into his disappearance was apparently carried out and his family still has no news of him. Eduardo Bertoni, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s freedom of speech special rapporteur, noted after a mission to Mexico that discrimination was taking place over the allocation of official advertising in some states, such as Chihuahua and Guerrero.
Respect for the confidentiality of reporters’ sources remained a sore point in 2003. Once again, several were summoned by legal officials and questioned about their news sources. One step forward was the submission of a bill to protect confidentiality of sources by the chairman of the senate’s human rights committee in late November. This is still being looked into.
More concrete progress was made on 11 December when the public prosecutor adopted a proposal that journalists mentioned as witnesses "could not be forced to make statements about their sources of information". Referring to the harassment of Gustavo Castillo García of the daily La Jornada on 4 September, he said officials did not have the right to question journalists to whom they were delivering summonses. Officials who broke the new regulations could be punished, he added.
New information on a journalist killed before 2003
Patricia Morales, the lawyer for Miguel Hernández and Juan Chivarra, the presumed killers of Philip True, published their confessions on 25 November 2003. The two men, both members of the Huichol ethnic group, said they killed the reporter because they believed he had stolen sacred stones, and had already been arrested three times for theft. Ms Morales said she had conducted her own inquiry before making their statements public. True, a correspondent for the daily San Antonio Express News of San Antonio (Texas), was found dead on 16 December 1998. He had been reporting on the Huichol community in the western state of Jalisco. Other sources have hinted the killing might be connected with his findings about the community’s involvement in drug trafficking, or that the two men killed him because he had photographed them.
A journalist missing
Jesús Mejía Lechuga of the MS-Noticias radio station was reported missing by his family on 13 July 2003. He was last seen the day before while interviewing Alfonso Alegretti, an official of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at the local council offices. During his broadcasts the journalist had condemned Guillermo Zorilla Pérez, the PRI federal representative, for his alleged involvement with drug trafficking. Legal officials believe that Mejía is on the run after he was accused of stealing a car. The allegation concerns a car he reportedly borrowed and which turned out to have been stolen. Another local journalist pointed out that if he was really on the run, his family would not have immediately reported his disappearance to the police. In August 2001 Mejía was kidnapped and held briefly by police officers on the orders of a superintendent he had accused of misconduct.
A journalist imprisoned
Humberto López, editor of the daily Expresión and owner of Radio Hit in south-western Oaxaca state, was freed on bail on 10 April 2003. He had been jailed a week earlier for libel by the Oaxaca PRI representative, Juan Díaz Pimentel, and the brother of state governor José Murat Casab. He had accused the two men of misconduct and abuse of authority.
Four journalists arrested
Angel Mario Ksheratto of the daily Cuarto Poder, published in San Cristobal (Chiapas state), was arrested on the orders of the local court on 9 January 2003 and freed the next day after paying bail of 63,000 pesos (5,600 euros). He had been accused of libel by a member of the Chiapas School Building Committee. In a report published in August 2002, he alleged she had claimed and received over 4,000 euros in medical expenses using forged documents.
Reporter Isabel Arvide was arrested in northern Chihuahua state on 4 March and charged with libelling state prosecutor Jésus José Solís. She was released the next day after paying bail of 200,000 pesos (18,000 euros). The official had complained about a report published on her web site and in the daily Milenio on 2 June 2001, in which she condemned his alleged ties with drug traffickers. Arvide had already been arrested and freed on bail in August 2002 over the same report before being placed under legal supervision. She faces a jail term of six months to two years if convicted.
Raúl Cobos Ramírez of the daily El Sol Del Centro, published in Aguascalientes (central Mexico), was arrested on 23 April for obstructing the course of justice. A Workers’ Party activist ran away from police officers who had come to arrest him when the reporter began asking them questions. The officers then turned on the the journalist, smashing his video camera and mobile phone before taking him to the police station where he was held for several hours.
On 27 August Francisco Barradas, managing editor of the magazine Bi and the daily Imagen in the city of Zacatecas (Zacatecas state), was held by police for five hours before being freed on bail. Council official Rafael Medina Briones had filed a libel complaint against him over a report published on 27 July 2002 accusing him of stealing drinking water from his neighbour’s tank. The journalist was cleared on appeal on 25 November.
Fifteen journalists physically attacked
Mario Rosales Betancourt, who works for the daily Sol de Mediodía, Radio 13 and Radio ABC, was insulted and beaten by strangers outside his home on 20 January 2003. He was not robbed. The reporter was worried about the worsening situation ahead of municipal elections in Mexico state. He said he had been receiving threats since early January because of comments he had made during his radio broadcasts about several lists of candidates.
On 14 April Luis Morales and Alejandro Guerrero, a cameraman and reporter with the privately-owned channel Televisa, were set upon in the city of Tizayuca (Hidalgo state), by Esteban Salas Ramírez, a parliamentarian from the opposition Party of Democratic Revolution. The politician had been arrested after taking part in a bar-room brawl while drunk, and the journalists had filmed the arrest.
Two strangers fired at the home of Concepción Villafuerte Avendaño, editor of the daily La Foja Coleta in Tuxtla Gutiérrez (Chiapas state), on 22 April. Nine 9mm bullets were found on the premises. The journalist, whose family had already been threatened, said the attack was an attempt to intimidate her. The daily is known for its coverage of alleged malpractice by the regional government.
Antonio Siordia Carrasco, correspondent of the daily Express in Compostela (Nayarit state, west-central Mexico), was beaten up by Miguel Cambero Monroy, son of the city’s mayor, Alicia Monroy Lizola, on 13 May. Cambero Monroy threatened to kill the journalist. An investigation by the newspaper had uncovered various instances of malpractice in the city administration. The journalist filed a complaint despite the threats.
During the night of September 7 to 8, strangers set fire to Tomas Martínez Juárez’s car. The reporter works for the daily Noticias and the radio station La Ley 710 AM in Oaxaca state. Two days earlier he had published a report on alleged ties between the police and a gang of car traffickers.
David Hernández Chávez, of the Federacion Mexicana de Prensa news agency, was beaten and his equipment taken on 2 October while he was covering a demonstration to commemorate a massacre of students on 2 October 1968. Two journalists from the French news agency Agence France-Presse were also set upon. Troublemakers had apparently infiltrated the protest. Two vehicles belonging to the Televisa channel were damaged during the disturbances and slogans were daubed on the premises of the dailies La Prensa, Excelsior and El Universal. Stones were also thrown at the building.
Camerino Berduzco, the editor of Juicio Politico magazine, was attacked by several men on 2 October. Among them, he recognised the bodyguard of Leonel Cota Montaño, governor of the western state of Baja California Sur. The journalist lodged a complaint against the state authorities for "physical aggression and kidnapping" with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. In early November, Berduzco’s wife was also briefly kidnapped by men who made further threats against her husband. In early December the commission officially agreed to investigate the complaint.
It was learned on 18 November that three staff members of the daily El Mexicano, published in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state (which borders the United States), had been attacked by police. Newspaper seller Carlos Mata tried to help someone he saw being beaten up by the officers. Jorge Jauregui, the daily’s circulation manager, and photographer Roberto Carlos Lara, who was taking pictures of the disturbance, were both set upon when they tried to intervene.
Jorge García Madrigal, a photographer with the daily La Jornada de Morelos, published in Cuernavaca (Morelos state), south of Mexico City, was attacked by police officers on 26 November while covering the break-up of a demonstration blocking the road from Mexico City to Cuernavaca. He was beaten up while trying to take pictures of Sebastián Isunza Gutiérrez, Morelos state police secretary, who was in charge of moving on the demonstrators. The journalist was taken to hospital.
Eduardo Elizalde Lara, owner of the weekly Revista 7 Dias, was struck violently on the face on 3 December by Alejandro García, a municipal official from Torreón in the north-eastern state of Coahuila. The official had gone to the newspaper with a group of men on the pretext that it was not legally authorised to publish. One of the journalist’s colleagues said the real reason was a report in which he indirectly accused García of corruption.
Harassment and obstruction
The broadasting signal of Radio Korita, based in Tepic, capital of Nayarit state, was cut off just as the programme "Consensos", presented by José Espinoza Vargas, was about to start on 31 January. The journalist said the station manager, Jorge Mondragón Santoyo, had explained he had taken the programme off the air on the orders of the state governor, who would otherwise refuse to renew the station’s annual contract for official advertising. Espinoza Vargas had earlier reported frauds in the allocation of contracts in the public housing sector.
Adriana Varillas, of the daily La Voz del Caribe in Cancún (Quintana Roo state), was brought before a judge on 10 March and questioned about his sources for an April 2002 report condemning malpractice by state officials over regional tourism projects.
On 24 April 2003 the Guerrero state court summoned Alejandro Mendoza Pastrana, the national daily El Financiero’s correspondent in Chilpancingo and a contributor to the local daily El Sol de Chilpancingo, for questioning about his sources for a report published in El Sol de Chilpancingo on 25 March in which he accused local politicians of corruption. The journalist refused to answer the summons.
Soldiers prevented Eric Chavelas, a photographer with the newspaper El Sur de Acapulco and the daily Reforma, and Salin Sánchez, a cameraman with the Televisa channel, from covering searches in the mountain village of Encino Amarillo (Guerrero state), on 23 August. The officer in charge of the operation stopped them interviewing a villager whose house had been searched and ordered the cameraman to stop filming.
Editorial writer Javier Hernández Alpízar and cartoonist Marcos Cruz of the newspaper El Tlacuilo were being sued on 25 August by the chairman of Xalapa town council (Vera Cruz state), for libel and incitement to violence. The politician was upset by a report and cartoon about a rubbish tip he had arranged to open on the edge of a nearby village.
Gustavo Castillo García, of the daily La Jornada, was visited by two members of the judicial police and an employee of the public prosecutor’s office on 4 September. The officials, who had no warrant and refused to give their names, claimed they had to question him about his sources for a report naming a drug trafficker. The next day the federal court ordered an inquiry into the three men.
Pablo Quezada, editor of the satirical weekly El Nopal, announced on 7 September that the newspaper had been withdrawn from sale in and around Zacatecas. He said a high-ranking official had told him the order came from the state governor. Quezada thought the move might be retaliation for a report taking up allegations that the governor had been corrupted by drug traffickers.
On 10 September two officials from the government communications and transport office, accompanied by police, broke into the offices of the community radio station La Voladora in Amecameca, 30 miles east of Mexico City, and tried to seize equipment. The station’s lawyers, who were on the premises at the time, protested that the operation was illegal. The officials persisted, but the determination of station employees finally forced them to leave empty-handed. In April 2003 La Voladora had applied to the office for a broadcasting licence but received no answer. Legalisation of community radio stations is the subject of ongoing discussions with the government.
The government communications and transport office closed down three community radio stations in western Jalisco state on 15 December and tried to seize their equipment. Radio Santa María, Radio Grafía and Zona Cero had been trying to obtain official permission to broadcast since April, but had found it too expensive to comply with the conditions.
A group of Mexican soldiers tried to prevent a team from the French news agency Agence France-Presse from taking photos on 31 December. The journalists were in a military zone near the city of San Cristobal, covering the tenth anniversary of the a Zapatist uprising during which activists had attacked military installations.