I woke up to another typical news event in Mexico: A journalist was found dead by the side of the road after being tortured and stabbed. I do not remember the date, nor the exact headline, but I do remember how I felt. On the one hand, it did not surprise me at all. On the other hand, it unconsciously bittered the heart of a then 14 year-old, too young to be aware of all the tragedies of the world. At that time, I did not know that journalism would be one of my prospective careers, but I still had a spark of hope for my native country. Over the years, I developed a deep passion for conveying my ideas and expressing my emotions through writing. Now, I realize, my own home country will never be a safe home for me if I ever decide to become a journalist, or the thousands of potential journalists, who like me, have a deep sense of achievement after telling a story or expressing themselves.
Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world to work for the media in 2020, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). At least 30 journalists were killed for their work in the year of lockdown. Mexico is the one with the most killings, where 4 were killed for their work, 1 was shot in a crime scene and the murder of 4 others are being investigated to determine the intent behind their murders. The history of murders of journalists has existed since the mid to late-1800s, and intensified in the last 21 years, especially since the start of the presidency of Felipe Calderón in 2006. Over 100 journalists have been killed or disappeared since 2000; out of those 74 were killed, 25 disappeared, and 1 was kidnapped.
The roots of these attacks against human rights goes way back to the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, who led a dictatorship in Mexico for a total of 31 years, from 1877 to 1880 and from 1884 to 1911. The first targeted killing happened in 1860, but only 10 killings happened in total during the 19th Century.
However, the real problem arose when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took power in 1929, and monopolized the press in Mexico to suit their needs. The party reigned uninterruptedly for 71 years, from 1929 to 2000, a period where corruption took over the country. Journalists and media workers who agreed to do favourable coverage of PRI in the media received handouts or gifts from the government. On the other hand, if media workers did not comply, they were intimidated, killed or disappeared. In the mid 20th Century, the attacks against the press continued, carried out by drug cartels and corrupt government officials who were not pleased with what was published about them.
In the 1980s, however, the landscape of journalism was transformed when the government began selling off public media enterprises. This gave rise to the creation of independent newspapers. In 2000, after 71 years in power, PRI lost the presidential election to the National Action Party (PAN). The next presidential term in 2006, was won again by PAN with president Felipe Calderón. However, Calderón decided to carry out an unsuccessful and bloody military campaign against drug cartels in Mexico, starting the Mexican war on drugs. During this period, cartels increasingly fought for territorial control and against the government. At the end of Calderón’s mandate in 2012, the death toll was at least 60,000 and by 2013, it is estimated that 120,000 people had been killed and 27,000 people disappeared since the onset of the war.
Since then, journalists stopped writing about drug traffickers and corrupt government officials and only wrote about them if these groups forced them to. In 2018, the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, declared that the war was over, but people were not pleased with this unfounded declaration.
Despite journalists repressing their freedom of expression by not talking about muddy subjects such as drug trafficking and corruption in the government, Mexico accounted for almost a third of all the journalists murdered around the world in 2020.
Many of their rights, not only that of freedom of expression, are being violated by these inhumane killings and disappearances. Five rights are being infringed upon if the issue is seen from the point of view of the document that protects rights in Canada, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and from an international law perspective with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of the United Nations.
The most obvious is the right to life, liberty and security of a person and the right to not be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, outlined in section 7 of the Charter and article 3 of the UDHR. This right is being violated because journalists who do not publish what the corrupt government officials or criminal groups want them to write, are in danger of losing their lives. After they publish something that exposes the crimes of cartels or government members, they are not able to move freely around their city or country because they are in danger of being attacked. In other words, journalists are not secure anywhere if they do not comply with what they are pressured to write about.
Another right that is being infringed upon is the right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media of communication, which is part of the Fundamental Freedoms in section 2b of the Charter and is found in articles 18 and 19 of the UDHR. This violation was true when the PRI party monopolized the media in Mexico and journalists who did not comply with their instructions were intimidated, disappeared or killed. However, this still happens today, since journalists in Mexico are restricted in the scope of what they can write about because of the fear of being killed if they dare to publish anything related to corruption or criminal activity.
Moreover, a right that has been infringed upon is the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, outlined in section 12 of the Charter and in article 5 of the UDHR. Throughout Mexican history, especially in the last 21 years, journalists have been killed by drug cartels by being stabbed, shot, dismembered, or tortured in other inhumane ways.
Finally, article 8 of the UDHR which states that “everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law” was violated. This relates to article 12 which states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Both of these articles were violated because there was no effective remedy to the violation of the fundamental rights of journalists or protection against attacks to their privacy, family, or home. The correspondent authorities did not act to enforce the Constitution of Mexico or properly investigated the murders to detain and try the accused people.
The only real solution to protect the human rights of journalists in Mexico was a shield law put in place in Mexico City on the 8th of June of 2020. This law is the Ley del Secreto Profesional del Periodista or the Journalist Professional Secrecy Law, which was originally enacted and published in 2006 in the Gaceta Oficial del Distrito Federal. However, the new shield law outlines more concisely what this law protects, which in article 4 defines journalist professional secrecy as “the inalienable right that journalists and media workers have of not revealing the identity of their source”.
However, this shield law in Mexico City has been used to spread disinformation and benefit the personal interests of third parties. Public relations agencies, institutions and executives have used the secrecy law to give journalists false information for their personal benefit.
The strategy of putting a shield law in place has worked for Mexico City because no journalists have been killed since its enactment. However the real problem has not been solved: eradicating the killings of journalists all around Mexico. Most of the killings, especially since the beginning of the twenty-first century, have happened outside of Mexico City, in states where there is a strong presence of the major drug cartels in the country.
Despite there only being one effort made to advocate for the rights of journalists in Mexico, there is a document which clearly and very efficiently protects the rights of media workers: the Constitution of Mexico. Being the first Constitution in the world to forbid re-election for presidency and include social guarantees, this document protects the rights of Mexicans to the utmost degree. Articles 6 and 7 of the Constitution, found in Chapter 1 of Human Rights and their Guarantees, protect the broadcast of information and media workers. In short, in article 6 it says that “the manifestation of ideas will not be a cause for judicial or administrative inquisition and that the attack towards, privacy, life, morality or rights of people or anything criminal towards them should be punished by the standards of the law”. Later, it states that “everyone has the right to free access to information or expression of ideas in different mediums”. Moreover, article 7 declares that “the freedom of expressing ideas, opinions, or information by any form of media is inviolable. This right/freedom cannot be infringed upon by the government, private people, printing companies, or telecommunications media used to broadcast information. No law or authority can censor information or infringe upon the freedom of expression. Ideas, opinions or devices for the broadcast of information cannot be used as an instrument of crime”.
Although the Constitution of Mexico is beautifully written and was a pioneer in these types of documents, it does not work if it is not being upheld by the Mexican government. The illegal actions of colluding drug cartels and corrupt government officials are causing the infringement on the rights of journalists. The monopolization of the media by the PRI party set in motion this everlasting chain of corruption, murder, and inhumane behaviour, and the Mexican drug war exponentially increased the number of murdered journalists in Mexico. The most efficient solution to end this human rights violation is to uphold the Constitution of Mexico as the most powerful document in the country, since it is not possible to defend democracy any other way in a sea of corruption and illegality.
On an ending note, the fourteen year-old boy from the beginning grew up and developed a passion for creative writing and storytelling, which journalism is a major exponent of. It saddens me that in such a beautiful country, violence has been normalized and that the murder of a journalist is considered another drop in the ocean. A deep scar has been made in Mexican history and it is up to the government to enact shield laws at a federal level and uphold the Magna Carta of the United States of Mexico.
Lakhani, N. (2020, December 22). Mexico world’s deadliest country for journalists, news report finds. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/22/mexico-journalists-deadly-cpr-press-freedom#:~:text=Nine%20journalists%20were%20killed%20in,shot%20dead%20within%2010%20days.&text=Overall%2C%20at%20least%2090%25%20of%20journalist%20killings%20remain%20unsolved.
Lopez, O. (2020, December 22). Number of Journalists Killed for Their Reporting Doubled in 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/22/world/americas/mexico-journalists-killings-double.html
Maraboto, M. (2014, February 4). Sobre el secreto profesional de los periodistas. Forbes.
Martínez, M. (2019, February 28). Cuántos periodistas han muerto en México desde que asumió la presidencia López Obrador. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-47402149
Redacción Animal Político. (2020, June 9). Ley en CDMX protege el Secreto Profesional de periodistas: no tendrán que revelar sus fuentes. Animal Político. https://www.animalpolitico.com/2020/06/ley-cdmx-secreto-profesional-periodistas-no-revelar-fuentes/#:~:text=El%20gobierno%20capitalino%20promulg%C3%B3%20la,tenga%20que%20revelar%20sus%20fuentes.&text=Este%20derecho%20podr%C3%A1%20ser%20ejercido%20frente%20a%20terceros%20o%20autoridad%E2%80%9D