Mexico’s Efforts to Curb Violence Against Journalists
- March 4th, 2023
- in Capstone Commentary
By: Angelina Ramirez
2022 marked the tenth anniversary since the Mexican government implemented the 2012 Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists to end the significant violence against these vulnerable groups. Journalist protection mechanisms are coordinated inter-agency systems designed to ensure the safety of journalists by focusing on the prevention and prosecution of violence against journalists. These mechanisms facilitate the dispatch of first responder teams and emergency protection measures for threatened reporters. Each mechanism varies greatly by state, the needs of each journalist, and the relationship between the government and community actors. As the decade since the Mexican Mechanisms’ implementation has passed, there have been several discussions about whether it has been successful and met these standards. We can evaluate the mechanism’s efficacy by reviewing the conditions for Mexican journalists before 2012, following the mechanisms’ establishment, and the system’s strengths and weaknesses. With this analysis, it will become clear that the mechanism has provided some assistance to Mexican journalists but has failed to create long-lasting changes that address the systematic violence they face.
Before 2012, Mexico encountered high violence rates against journalists, increasing self-censorship, and impunity for crimes committed against them. In 2011, Freedom House determined that Mexico’s “security environment for journalists has deteriorated markedly.” With a drastic influx of violence, more generally due to the Drug War beginning in 2006, journalists faced more threats of harm. Nine journalists were killed, and four disappeared in 2010, making Mexico lead as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. In response to this uptick in violence, self-censorship also became increasingly popular, threatening the quality of journalism. Additionally, impunity for crimes against journalists was a significant obstacle. Nearly 89% of the crimes against journalists in Mexico from 1992 to 2009 were executed with impunity. To combat these concerns, in 2006, the Mexican government created a special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against journalists, and in 2010 this office was granted increased powers. However, “rights groups considered the initiative weak” and called for better efforts to defend reporters. In an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Iván Baez, remarked that the push for “the mechanism was a civil society initiative,” which aimed for the government to provide protective measures, temporary relocation, panic buttons, and bodyguards to those who are in need.
However, despite the Mechanism in 2012, the struggles with violence, self-censorship, and impunity continued. Mexico kept its title for the most dangerous country for journalists in 2022, with eleven journalists murdered that year alone. Reporters covering sensitive topics such as drug trafficking and government corruption are especially prone to violent threats. Since 2000, over 159 journalists have been murdered in Mexico for reasons relating to their work, and as of 2019, Mexican journalists reported experiencing “609 threats, attacks, or other forms of aggression.” This record-breaking amount of threats led to more self-censorship in media outlets and investigative journalism, particularly when it comes to reporting on organized crime. Impunity has also continued to be a pressing issue as “around 90% of crimes against journalists in Mexico currently go unpunished” today. Outside critics and NGOs have called on the Mexican government to be more proactive in defending reporters. It has been clear that the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists has not come anywhere near to completely solving Mexico’s concerns with the violence, self-censorship, and impunity that journalists encounter.
While the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists has not fundamentally changed the security environment for journalists in Mexico, it has prompted some advancements. Under the program, over 380 journalists have been protected. Similar state-level mechanisms have spread to nine other states, which created “early warning” systems to disperse information about possible threats to journalists in Chihuahua and Veracruz. Additionally, the mechanism has shown that it is capable and open to improving parts of the process that lacked efficiency. For instance, the mechanism worked closely with Freedom House to create protocols that determine the level of risk a person faces and help reduce the long backlog of cases. The mechanism has secured more resources and aid from the United States through technical assistance, special work sessions, public support from US policy-makers, and help through USAID. This mechanism has been recognized as progress for the rights of journalists because the Mexican government acknowledges the rampant aggression they endure.
Although the mechanism has its benefits, it has several obstacles. Some of these challenges include inadequate staffing and funding. As of 2019, “only 35 Mechanism personnel oversee the protection of 831 journalists and human rights defenders.” The 2019 budget cuts also meant the mechanism would lose USD 610,500, further decreasing the chances of hiring more employees. These losses compounded in 2020 when Mexico’s Congress removed the independent funding that supported the program. Another point of contention for the mechanism is the overlap between Mexican authorities and perpetrators of violence towards journalists. In 39% of the cases that the mechanism oversees, public officials were likely the aggressors, demonstrating why state investigations into violence against journalists and human rights abuses are often corrupt. Additionally, when it comes to providing defensive measures, the mechanism has failed to generate protocols specific to women, indigenous, and rural journalists, not reflecting the diversity of the people and terrain in the country. Despite being dedicated to assisting the powerless, the mechanism often breaks down when it comes to the most vulnerable journalists.
In the years since the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists went into effect, the conversation surrounding its efficacy has only grown. The mechanism has contributed to the movement to protect journalists from violence and has the potential to expand those benefits. However, these advantages do not entirely tackle the deeper-rooted issues about resources, corruption, and protocols for certain communities, including rural and minority reporters. The absence of improvement in violence, self-censorship, and impunity in journalism reflects the surface-level nature of this solution. Still, by understanding these weaknesses and strengths, advocates in all positions of power can begin to create the necessary changes. Fortunately, journalists have already started outlining the reform they need. Reporters emphasize that the Mexican government must significantly expand the mechanism’s funding and personnel resources, train coordinating government departments on the unique nature of human rights and journalist work, increase transparency on the mechanism budget, reduce response times for endangered journalists, and maintain strong coordination with civil society. In late 2022, the López Obrador administration proposed a overhaul of the mechanism and announced plans to introduce reform. Journalists and human rights defenders remain cautious, yet hopeful, that this reform can usher in an era where these suggestions are actualized.
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