Mexico: Voices Against Indifference

  • ARTICLE 19 reports that the number of aggressions against the press in Mexico in 2022 exceeded all previous records, with a documented attack every 13 hours.
  • With 12 journalists murdered last year, Mexico is positioned as the most lethal country to practice journalism in the Americas, with figures similar to those of war-torn countries.
  • Ten media outlets received 54.8% of spending on government advertising in 2022.

Mexico City, March 28, 2023.- ARTICLE 19 presents Voices against Indifference, its annual report on violence against the press, freedom of expression, access to information and respect for human rights in Mexico, and a shocking testament to the deterioration of freedom of expression in Mexico.

The report pays homage to the voices of journalists, human rights defenders and indigenous communities that are today confronted by a hegemonic discourse and a monopolisation of the public debate, says Leopoldo Maldonado, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19’s Office for Mexico and Central America.

He pointed out that in four years under a government that set itself up as a ‘transformer’ of a dire situation for the press, there has actually been a continued deterioration of conditions that dates back to the incoming government in 2000, and that has led to a reduction of the right to information and discouraged critical discourse about those in power.

The year 2022 represented an unimaginable milestone in terms of human rights violations. In May last year, the country recorded 100,000 missing persons. According to official figures, between 2019 and 2022, more than 30,000 of these cases have been registered and it is estimated that, due to the rise and continuity of violence, there could be more than 60,000 by the end of the current administration’s six-year term.

Maldonado also recalls the almost nonexistent institutional progress in solving security and justice issues, and the report reveals a significant deficit in the response in defence of victims. As an example, he shares that, from January 2020 to December 2022, the names of 1,504 people were listed in the local register of victims in Mexico City, of which only 186 have received economic support from the Aid, Assistance and Integral Reparation Fund.

Ongoing violence 

At the centre of the report, presented at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City, ARTICLE 19 highlights that in 2022 it registered 696 attacks against the press, thus becoming the most violent year for journalism since the organisation began recording aggressions in 2007. The 12 murders registered last year means is is tied with 2017 as the deadliest years for the press. 

The organisation also reports that there were aggressions against a journalist every 13 hours, with the majority of these aggressions committed by authorities. Of the documented cases, 296 (42.53%) were perpetrated directly by state actors: that is, 4 out of 10.

Taking a national overview, the five states with the most cases of attacks against the press in 2022 were Mexico City, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas and Veracruz, in that order.

Furthermore, the report reveals that, throughout the duration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, attacks against the press have mostly consisted of threats, intimidation and harassment. In 2022, as in the previous three years, the most common aggressions against journalists and media outlets were intimidation and harassment, with 181 reported cases.

Likewise, ARTICLE 19 recorded that on at least 176 occasions in 2022 the executive branch made stigmatising comments against the media, journalists and civil society organisations.

In parallel to its verbal attack against the media, the report highlights, the federal government also concentrates resources and provides discretional criteria for the allocation of government advertising in the media, giving rise to manipulation of editorial lines in the Mexican press.

In 2022, the Congress disregarded the ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) to address the deficiencies of the General Law of Social Communication and instead chose to ineffectively regulate government advertising and continue with the hyper-concentration of spending on communication. Data from the report show that last year, 10 communication companies received 54.8% of the total expenditure on government advertising, with about 30.6% given to La Jornada, Televisa and TV Azteca.

Militarisation and espionage

The report also highlights concerns about the militarisation of the country and the opacity surrounding the armed forces, particularly with regard to espionage as a tool to intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, revelations that have been made public in recent months by hacktivist groups.

According to ARTICLE 19, these leaks confirm that the military institutions consider collectives and individuals who investigate, denounce and expose cases of human rights violations as potential enemies. The federal government’s response has not been satisfactory. What is more, public resources were used to implement a campaign on official websites with the aim of denying the use of malware. 

The report also points out that the hacking of the Ministry of National Defence (Sedena) has been used as a pretext to reactivate discussions within the legislature and to promote cybersecurity laws that restrict human rights and inhibit freedom of expression.

Further, the budget for civilian security and justice institutions was 271% lower than that of the Army, the Navy and the National Guard, which will be militarised in 2023.

Institutions without a clear direction

The report also argues that the growing militarisation of the country has come at the expense of institutional progress, and also that the justice system is not advancing at the expected levels or pace. 

According to data provided by the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) between 2010, the year it was established, until December 2022, out of a total of 1,592 investigations for crimes against journalists, only 32 sentences have been handed down (including during the last 4 years).

Additionally, during 2022, most of the appointments of the heads of various public agencies remained pending. The year closed with 23 unfinished processes, and this year there are 16 pending processes, including those of the National Electoral Institute (INE) and the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI).

In the same vein, ARTICLE 19 points out the divisive use of bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). Since Rosario Piedra’s appointment as president of the body, 17 of the 28 recommendations addressed to the Sedena, the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), the GN and the Secretary of the Navy (Semar) refer to events that occurred before 1 December, 2018. 

It also points out that the CNDH has demonstrated a worrying partiality and lack of autonomy during the current 9-year term. The Commission refused to file an action of unconstitutionality against the reforms that turned the National Guard into a military body and supported proposals to reform the elections agency (INE) in line with the official discourse.

Launching the report

To launch the report, ARTICLE 19 organised a round table discussion featuring Raymundo Ramos, director of the Human Rights Center of Nuevo Laredo; Adela Navarro, director of ZETA Tijuana; Bibiana Mendoza, spokesperson for the Hasta Encontrarte collective; María Eloísa Quintero, an expert in complex investigations (human rights and macro-criminality); and Tomás López Sarabia, president of the Board of Directors of the Centro Profesional Indígena de Asesoría, Defensa y Traducción, A.C. (CEPIADET).

It is the historically discriminated voices who suffer from a state that continues to violate human rights, those who account for the weakening of freedom of expression in Mexico. They are the voices that embody the dignified struggle and resilience against censorship, oblivion and indifference. They, as always, are the protagonists that must be heard above the noise, polarisation, uncertainty, manipulation, and disinformation. We dedicate this report to them’ – Leopoldo Maldonado, Regional Director

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