The International Press Institute (IPI) this week took part in an international press freedom mission to Mexico, where verbal attacks on the press by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have added a new dimension to a country mired in a crisis of journalist safety and impunity. At a press conference on November 6 in Mexico City, the mission released its findings after a series of meetings with Mexican government officials, journalists and civil society.
Read the full statement below.
Following a dialogue with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference on November 6 and meetings with Mexican government officials, an international mission comprised of 17 international organizations dedicated to freedom of expression underscores its concern regarding the lack of guarantees offered by the Mexican state to solve the country’s grave freedom of expression crisis and the state’s failure to recognize the seriousness of the problem.
In 2019 Mexico became the deadliest country in the world for journalists. More than 99 percent of murders and disappearances of journalists remain unsolved and there are no guarantees that those who are dedicated to providing news and information can carry out their work free from retaliation, threats, violence and intimidation.
In the different meetings the mission called on the Mexican government to reduce by 2 percent the annual rate of impunity for crimes against journalists, which currently sits at over 99 percent; to implement 104 recommendations given by the United Nations with respect to Mexico’s protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders; and to put a stop to discourse that stigmatizes and increases the vulnerability of thousands of journalists in the country.
As a result of the mission the following has been agreed:
– The establishment of a twice-yearly meeting with the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) regarding the implementation of the relevant protocol (Protocolo homologado) governing the investigation of crimes against freedom of expression.
– The creation of a working group to drive the implementation of the 104 recommendations made by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the federal protection mechanism for journalists. President López Obrador committed during the press conference to guarantee those recommendations.
– The creation of a platform to view all recommendations given by international bodies as well as the status of their implementation.
– Lawmakers from different parties committed to working with civil society to push forward legislative changes.
Nevertheless, the mission considers the above commitments to be insufficient to reduce the level of impunity. We regret that the attorney general, Alejandro Gertz Manero, declined to meet with the mission and that the special prosecutor’s office (FEADLE) did not commit to reducing by 2 percent the annual impunity rate for crimes against journalists or to creating a working group to follow up on cases of disappeared journalists.
Separately, the President López Obrador’s communications team denied that there were cases of censorship and insisted that what the 17 organizations view as stigmatization of journalists and media outlets is rather a debate stimulated by the president’s morning press conferences. The president himself told representatives of the mission during the press conference: “I have never used language that stigmatizes journalists.”
Based on the meetings the mission held with Mexican civil society groups and journalists from different Mexican states, this stigmatization is in fact one of the biggest concerns, as it worsens the vulnerable conditions in which journalists work, especially for those in the interior of the country.
The mission is concerned by efforts to camouflage insults and smears as the exercise of a right of reply, efforts that should be dedicated to the promotion of an open and pluralistic debate instead. The president’s attitude is irresponsible and dangerous in a country such as Mexico, where more than 10 journalists have been murdered so far this year and where other forms of attacks are on the rise.
The mission also raised the issue of surveillance that has been carried out against journalists by the Mexican state. It appreciates the current president’s commitment that his government will not use surveillance systems and will guarantee the right of victims of surveillance by the previous government to find out which information about them was obtained.
However, this delegation considers that Mexico must implement the international recommendations it has received regarding the situation of impunity. The mission is committed to following up on the agreements and requests made, and both national and international organizations will continue working together to attain the desired objectives.
This government has the opportunity to change years of impunity and to reverse the situation of violence. The mission trusts that over the next five years the importance of journalist work to the democratic life of this country will be recognized and that effective action will be taken to reverse the trends noted here.
Mission representatives have met thus far with: Jesús Ramírez Cuevas and Jesús Cantú, members of the Mexican president’s communications team; Luis Raúl González Pérez, president of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH); Marta Delgado, undersecretary for human rights and multilateral affairs in the Mexican foreign ministry; Sara Irene Herrerías, special prosecutor in the area of human rights; Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, special prosecutor for crimes committed against freedom of expression (FEADLE); Raúl de Jesús Tovar, director of communications for the office of the attorney general (FGR), and several senators.
The international civil society coalition on safety of journalists (ISCO SOJ Coalition) is made up of 17 international and regional civil society groups and aims to strengthen coordination in the area of promotion of journalist safety and the fight against impunity. The coalition consists of: Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF), International Media Support (IMS), Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (Flip), Freedom House, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Internews, the International Press Institute (IPI), the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA), PEN America, Free Press Unlimited (FPU) and the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).