IPI and IMS are proud to announce Mexican investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui as the recipient of the 2023 World Press Freedom Hero award.
The award honours Aristegui’s decades of fearless reporting on corruption in Mexico regardless of the government in power, and her unyielding commitment to critical journalism in the face of targeted efforts to silence her.
For her vigorous watchdog journalism, Aristegui has been subject to a range of abuses at the hands of the Mexican state and other powerful actors, including smear campaigns and politically motivated firings. She and her family were illegally targeted with Pegasus surveillance beginning in 2015, in one of the first known uses of the powerful spyware against journalists.
Despite working under threat in one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalism, Aristegui has never wavered from her journalistic mission. Her fortitude has gained her widespread respect and inspired a generation as a prominent female investigative reporter in Mexico’s male-dominated media industry.
In a country where polarized political discourse and misinformation are on the rise, and where a journalist or media outlet is attacked every 13 hours, independent journalism, such as the kind that Aristegui practises and represents, is not only necessary but also a key element of democracy.
The IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero award will be presented together with the IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer award during a special ceremony on May 25, 2023, in Vienna as part of IPI’s annual World Congress.
A thorn in the side of power
Aristegui has spent nearly three decades breaking major stories on high-level corruption in Mexico, working mainly in radio and television, including CNN en Español. Her work is distinguished by an unflinching willingness to shine a critical light on some of Mexico’s most powerful institutions, despite the risks such reporting entails. Indeed, her journalism has repeatedly been a thorn to the side of those in power – frequently making her the target of reprisals.
In 2015, Aristegui was fired from the radio broadcaster MVS shortly after she and her team reported on a dubious real-estate deal by the wife of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto and after she helped launch MexicoLeaks, a Wikileaks-style platform designed to help expose corruption. The firing was widely seen as politically motivated and a court later ruled it illegal. She had been dismissed once before from her position at MVS under pressure from the administration of former President Felipe Calderón, before being rehired after a public outcry.
Two years later, a group of Mexican human rights organizations published a report revealing Aristegui had been subject to surveillance using the powerful Pegasus spyware in 2015 and 2016. The surveillance also targeted her then 16-year-old son Emilio as well as two colleagues; her sister, a producer, and a former assistant were also believed to have been suspected targets.
After her second dismissal from MVS, Aristegui continued to broadcast on CNN en Español and founded a news outlet called Aristegui Noticias, where she continues to produce hard-hitting investigative coverage on Mexico’s governing elite. In response, Aristegui has been the target of repeated verbal attacks and attempted smears by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who regularly uses his press briefings to lash out at perceived enemies in the media and civil society.
IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said:
“Carmen Aristegui stands out for her courageous determination to speak truth to power, despite the risks that doing so carries in a country like Mexico, one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist. Throughout her career, she has done what the best investigative journalists do: acted as a watchdog on the powerful and giving a voice to the powerless.
“For this work, she has faced repeated attacks, harassment, and violations of her human rights. Yet time and time again she has responded to this harassment by doubling down on her commitment to critical journalism, refusing to be silenced. We’re proud to award her this year’s IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero award.”
IMS Executive Director Jesper Højberg said:
“For over three decades, Carmen Aristegui has been on the forefront of bringing truthful information to the public in Mexico. Her dedication to journalism and persistence in her work serve as inspiration to journalists around the world, but in particular in Latin America, where freedom of the press and the safety of journalists is unfortunately under severe pressure. Throughout her work, information integrity has remained a central pillar. Not only does this lead to good journalism, it is also key to upholding democratic values. By exposing corruption and seeking accountability, Carmen Aristegui has courageously and relentlessly continued her reporting despite the threats she has faced, and it is difficult to overestimate the impact of her work. For that, Carmen Aristegui is a true Press Freedom Hero.”
This year’s Hero award recipients were selected by an international jury comprised of IPI; IMS; Siddharth Varadarajan, editor-in-chief of India’s The Wire, which received the 2021 Free Media Pioneer Award; Iryna Vidanava, co-founder and CEO of CityDog.io, a leading independent online media in Belarus; and José Zamora, chief communications and impact officer, Exile Content, and the son of imprisoned IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero José Rubén Zamora.
The 2022 World Press Freedom Hero award was given to Shireen Abu Akleh, a pioneering figure for women in media in the Middle East and Al Jazeera correspondent who was shot and killed by Israeli forces in May 2022, and El Salvador’s Carlos Dada, co-founder and director of El Faro, one of Latin America’s most prominent online investigative news outlets.