With two decades of violence directed against journalists, and other media related workers reporting on criminal activities, Mexico remains the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for the profession of journalism. Approximately 150 journalists have been killed since 2000. Apart from establishing in 2012 the flawed Federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, Mexican authorities have largely failed to safeguard journalists, or lessen the violence directed at them.

Widespread corruption and ineffective law enforcement and justice systems allow crime to flourish in Mexico. Impunity is rampant. Approximately 90% of murders are not properly investigated and go unprosecuted. In 2021, the independent platform OpenGlobalRights, asserted in a published report that “impunity in Mexico is not accidental, random, or involuntary. Instead, impunity results from a chain of actions taken with the express purpose of undermining investigations.” That same year, a report issued by the Organization of American States described Mexico as having “critical” failures in law enforcement, and some of the worst levels of journalist killings outside a war zone.

At the beginning of 2022, targeted killings continue; five journalists have been slain in recent weeks. A timely and informative webinar that provides detailed analysis of the killings, offering specific recommendations to help address and stem the violence, was organized on February 4, 2022 by the University of California San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (USMEX). “Explaining Murders of Journalists in Mexico” is available online in its entirety. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEJTHfcVcSU

The focus of the webinar was to analyze the savage intimidation of journalists–and concomitant assault on freedom of the press—throughout Mexico. In his introductory remarks, USMEX Director Rafael Fernando de Castro stated, “the killings have gone on too long, and are way too costly for life and Mexico’s young and fragile democracy.” He cautioned that “without journalism, Mexico would not be a full democracy.” Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul, panelist and founder of the organization Defensores de la Democracia (Democracy Defenders), stressed the vital role journalists play in strengthening democracy, noting it is important “to help people understand the role of journalists as democracy defenders.”

The USMEX webinar’s examination of the violence directed against journalists merits serious attention and a wide audience. Participants and panelists included award-winning journalists and university-based scholars and researchers who present on-the-ground perspectives that clarify the scope and scale of the crisis. Concrete recommendations are outlined regarding what can and must be done to meaningfully help counter the mounting violence threatening the foundations of Mexican civil society.

Although deadly attacks targeting journalists cannot be viewed separate from the country’s long-term descent into increasingly violent drug cartel and trafficking activities, targeted killing of journalists in Mexico is commonly, and erroneously, thought to happen primarily because of the “drug wars.” In fact, of the approximately 10% of prosecuted killings, 50% of those were found to be ordered/authored by local officials, and not drug related.

Selected webinar summary notes:

  • Mexico’s journalist protection efforts at the federal and state levels are wholly inadequate, underfunded, staffed by a relatively small staff of ill-prepared and poorly led employees, most of whom live and work in Mexico City. Leaders at the federal and state level give little indication they take the horrific state of affairs seriously. Protection-related programs across Mexico have a combined annual budget of approximately 20 million dollars.
  • Journalists and writers—media workers in general—are paid very little. Owners and directors of journalism related entities are typically not in the line of fire; the workers at the street level are those targeted and murdered. A very small number of people at the local level know what is happening; everyone else relies on these handful of brave people who risk their lives to document the few facts known.
  • American and/or foreign journalists and writers are not targeted. But local reporters’ lives are not respected. Journalists who are threatened work under impossible conditions; applying for protection is a stressful and often ineffectual process; appeals for help are not resolved quickly or effectively. The burden of proof is all on the petitioner for help.
  • Women investigating and reporting on the killings are treated dismissively; not respected. Women panelists all noted similar experiences. Specifically, they are told they are “just girls,” too young and inexperienced to be doing this kind of work, and other contemptuous and sexist comments.

USMEX has summarized key takeaways and discussion highlights that serve as valuable guides for better understanding the crisis throughout Mexico. https://usmex.ucsd.edu/_files/usmex_webinar-takeaways_explaining-murders-of-journalists-in-mexico.pdf

As USMEX plans additional webinars, it urges other academic institutions, as well as other interested entities, e.g., U.S. media, human rights organizations, NGO’s and other influencers, to devote additional resources and attention toward helping shed light on the factual reasons for the killings. It is hoped heightened publicity and pressure on the Mexican authorities—at the highest levels—will help lead to substantive change by dedicating the necessary human and financial resources needed to end the carnage directed toward journalists.

Interested parties can view the webinar in its entirety, or study the takeaways and discussion summaries, and draw their own conclusions regarding potential next steps to pursue.

Dennis Conroy
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee
PEN International San Miguel Center
Vice President, Chicago Network JP

16 February 2022