“Felipe Calderón will go down in history as the president who allowed the wave of violence against the media to grow,” says Ricardo González of Article 19, an international organization defending freedom of expression and information.
The outgoing president of Mexico failed the country’s press, say human rights organizations, describing his six-year term of office as the worst for journalists and press freedom in the country’s history. Over eighty-five reporters in Mexico were killed during that period. Journalists had to work in conditions which some have compared to a state of war.
Ricardo González of Article 19 says that the pattern of violence against the media began over 20 years ago, “but it grew not only in the northern states but throughout the rest of the country during Calderón’s term of office. It reached a climax as he left office.” According to González, both the quantity and quality of the information available to the public has decreased. “In this latest presidential election,” laments González, “the press was completely silenced. Journalists operated in total uncertainty, not only because of the violence but because of the government’s failure to act against these threats.”
During the first few years of Calderón’s mandate, drug cartels were the only groups accused murdering and carrying out attacks against journalists. But even as the president was stepping up his military offensive against the cartels, it appears that many of the attacks were actually carried out by law enforcement officials.
According to Article 19, more than half of the attacks on journalists were carried out by armed forces or police officials at the local and state level. The organization also claims that authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute those responsible. There has been total impunity when it comes to attacking the media, says González.
Mexican reporters are not only concerned about who is shooting at them. They are also distressed by the fact that their government sees them as nothing more than a vehicle for exercising its own power. “The government lacks confidence in journalists and is unaware of their work. It sees the media as yet another tool to implement its strategy, whether it be to combat crime, improve its image or promote its own political interests,” says González. “The government has always viewed reporters as part of the government apparatus and not as an independent body which exists not to serve powerful interests, but to inform citizens so they can exercise their rights.”
González and other supporters of press freedom, both in Mexico and abroad, believe that the Calderón government’s adoption of the Law for the Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders represents a significant advance for Mexico. “At least now,” says González, “journalists know what they need to do in case of emergency. But the law doesn’t deal with the concrete, logistical and administrative problems endangered journalists face.” But at least now there is a mechanism to protect journalists.
Now that Enrique Peña Nieto has been sworn in as the new president of Mexico, not a minute can be lost, according to González. “President Peña Nieto has stated that he’s fully committed to freedom of expression. But we believe the situation is so grave that it doesn’t require any more declarations – only immediate action. This is what we will demand of the new President of the Republic beginning on his first day in office.”