Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to a new report that highlights how corrupt government officials as well as organized crime groups are responsible for the majority of threats and attacks against journalists.
In a recently published report, press freedom organization Article 19 documents the high levels of aggression toward journalists in Mexico and emphasizes the role that the government plays in the persistence of these crimes.
According to Article 19, Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists, with levels of violence comparable to countries at war. In fact, Mexico is second only to Syria as the country with the most journalists killed.
Since the start of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term in 2012, Article 19 has documented nearly 2,000 cases of aggression against journalists, including 41 murders and four disappearances. Each year has been more violent than the last, with violence against journalists reaching its highest point in two decades in 2017, when 507 cases of aggression against journalists, including 12 murders, were documented.
Although organized crime groups have borne the brunt of blame for violence against journalists, Article 19 clarifies that a large share of the blame also lies with corrupt government officials.
Of the 1,986 cases of aggression against journalists documented in the last five years, 8 percent are thought to have been committed by members of organized crime groups, while 48 percent are attributed to government officials at the local, state and federal levels. The report did not specify the actors suspected in the remainder of the cases.
When it comes to targeted killings of journalists, Article 19 estimated in 2012 that 75 percent were likely committed by organized crime groups. But in 2017, the organization estimated that organized crime likely accounted for only 21.9 percent of all journalist murders, while government officials were likely responsible for 19.5 percent.
Mirroring patterns of violence in Mexico more generally, attacks on journalists have spread to new areas of the country. In the early 2010s, aggression towards journalists was heavily concentrated in states with a strong presence of organized crime groups, such as Chihuahua, Guerrero and Sinaloa. However, these attacks are now more generalized across the country, taking hold even in states that were once relatively safe for journalists, such as Baja California Sur, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato and Quintana Roo.
While journalists covering crime, security and justice issues were previously the most at risk of violence, those writing about corruption and politics are increasingly under threat, particularly in the capital Mexico City.
Attacks against women journalists in particular are also on the rise. During former President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s 2006 to 2012 term, an average of 32 women journalists were attacked each year for a total of 192. Throughout Peña Nieto’s term, an average of 86.7 women journalists have been attacked annually.
InSight Crime Analysis
While organized crime groups are often assumed to be the main perpetrators of violence against journalists in Mexico, Article 19’s recent report highlights the role of the Mexican government in committing, condoning and ensuring impunity for these crimes.
Violence is used to silence both the journalists targeted and those in whom it incites fear. The states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chihuahua are now dubbed “zones of silence” because targeted killings are increasingly fostering fear and leading to self censorship and at times mass displacement. For example, in Veracruz, which is considered the most dangerous state in Mexico for journalists, at least 30 journalists fled seeking safety following the 2012 murder of crime reporter Regina Martínez. The former governor of Veracruz from 2010 to 2016, Javier Duarte — who has been jailed on charges of colluding with crime groups while he was in office — once admonished journalists to “behave” if they wanted to stay safe.
Like most crimes in Mexico, virtually every instance of attacks on journalists remains in impunity, and family members seeking justice often face revictimization and criminalization by government institutions. According to Article 19, Mexico’s impunity rate of 99.6 percent for crimes against journalists is likely due to the fact that almost half of all cases of aggression towards journalists are allegedly committed by government officials who have no interest in improving the mechanisms for holding perpetrators to account.
As the organization put it, “Silence derived through violence is convenient for political power.”