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Violence Against Journalists Fuels Self-Censorship in Mexico

By: Contributor - Aug 30, 2013, 4:18 pm
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Source: Flickr/Knights Foundation.

Journalists remain vulnerable in Mexico, which fuels the country’s long history of self-censorship, according to freedom of speech watchdogs.

In 2000, the political alliance headed by the National Action Party (PAN) gained Vicente Fox the presidency and ended the Institutionally Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) 70-year control. During the PRI years, the government’s heavy hand on national media resulted in rampant self-censorship, the Index on Censorship (IOC) notes.

The PAN held control until December last year — when electorate fatigue with former President Felipe Calderon’s war on drugs returned the PRI to power with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto.

Yet, “violence against journalists has not lessened, nor has . . . their vulnerability” despite Calderon’s past efforts and Peña Nieto’s promises, contends The Inter American Press Association (SIP-IAPA).

Last year, Mexico’s Congress approved the Ley Para La Protección de Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas, which guarantees “life, integrity, liberty, and security” for those defending “human rights, free speech, and journalism.”

However, Peña Nieto’s Administration has yet to “clarify” continued controversy on the “mechanism” to implement the law, the SIP- IAPA said in their mid-year report.

Also, the June 2012 amendment of Article 73, paragraph XXI of the Constitution — which “empowers the federal authorities to take up cases of crimes against freedom of expression” — holds discouraging results.

SIP-IAPA said that Mexican officials disclosed that only seven cases had open investigations from the 47 cases reported. They noted that “of the six cases of the murder of journalists brought to the Veracruz Public Prosecutor’s Office, none was sent by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.”

Social Media Surveillance

Mexico, in order to protect the state, “has increased its surveillance capacity” of the internet and social media, which IOC warns could affect citizens’ rights to privacy.

The country’s Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA), which controls the armed forces, has acquired enhanced domestic surveillance equipment — including cellular and web software that “can be openly used to monitor Mexican citizens,” said the London-based charity.

Furthermore, Mexico’s Congress approved new legislation last year that gave police more access to online information.

Article 8, paragraph XLII, of Mexico’s Ley De La Policía Federal, allows police to identify, monitor, and track the internet to prevent criminal behavior. Paragraph XLIII specifies developing, maintaining, and scrutinizing sources of information in society related to criminal phenomena.

IOC cited a regional public nuisance law for the State of Veracruz, which “sends to jail any social media member who uses Twitter or Facebook to warn fellow citizens about violence.” The law was created in 2012 after Twitter users traumatized the City of Veracruz with tweets to warn of shootouts that later turned out to be false alarms.

The dilemma lies in that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been valuable alternative sources of information in Mexico and a voice against misuse of authority. Abuses directed at children and indigenous peoples have been exposed in videos that have turned viral on the web.

Social media has increasingly substituted a self-silenced traditional media that has “recoiled from reporting on organized crime-related violence.”

But not without risks, IOC has alerted. Two websites that ran reports on drug trafficking shut themselves down, due to direct assaults. Drug traffickers murdered bloggers in the northern state of Taumalipas, as well as two Twitter users, “whose bodies were never identified and were found hanging from a bridge overpass.”

Meanwhile, IOC has made a call for the G20 to include free speech in their agenda during the  2013 Summit which begins next week.

“The G20 should not solely be about advancing economic development . . . Following recent revelations about mass surveillance by the US, the UK, and other countries, it is more important than ever that they clearly express their commitment to freedom of speech,” said Marek Marczynski, IOC’s campaigns and policy director.

Mexico, along with the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada, will send their leaders to join representatives from the European Union and the other fourteen nations for the September 5-6 summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia.