The Media Today

A deadly year for Mexico’s journalists

August 27, 2019

On Saturday, the body of Nevith Condés Jaramillo, the director of Observatorio del Sur, a local news site in Mexico, was found in the Tejupilco municipality, riddled with stab wounds. It’s not yet clear whether his death was linked to his journalism. If it was, organized crime could be to blame; equally, Condés had a strained relationship with local officials, having reported on corruption within the police department. (In Mexico, public officials have commonly been suspected of involvement in violent attacks against journalists, not that they’re ever held accountable.) Colleagues of Condés told Reporters Without Borders that he received death threats in November, and again in June.

Mexico has long been a dangerous place to be a journalist, but this year’s statistics are particularly worrying. Condés is the fourth reporter to have been killed in the past month. In late July, the body of Rogelio Barragán Pérez, the founder of news website Guerrero Al Instante, was found dead in the trunk of a car, reportedly bearing signs of torture. On August 2, Edgar Alberto Nava López, who also worked as a journalist in Guerrero state, was found dead; the same day Jorge Celestino Ruiz Vázquez, a reporter with El Gráfico, was fatally shot in Veracruz state. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, all three reporters had recently received threats, or otherwise expressed fears for their safety. Late last year, assailants twice attacked Ruiz’s vehicle, and shot at his residence.

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According to a CPJ database, motives in the murders of Barragán and Nava have yet to be established. CPJ did conclude that Ruiz was murdered in direct relation to his work, a verdict it also recorded for Rafael Murúa Manríquez, a community radio director who was killed in January in Baja California Sur; Francisco Romero Díaz, a local reporter killed in May in Quintana Roo; and Norma Sarabia Garduza, a newspaper correspondent killed in June in Tabasco. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, the total number of journalist deaths this year could be as high as 12—and it’s only August. It’s possible that 2019 will prove to be the deadliest year on record for Mexico’s journalists.

That’s no small feat. Mexico is already the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western hemisphere; well over 100 journalists have been killed there since 2000. The impunity rate for crimes against free expression is almost 100 percent: a special prosecutor’s office focused on such offenses has procured precious few convictions since it was established in 2010. A federal program offering protection measures to nearly 1,000 threatened reporters—including panic buttons and bodyguards—has been criticized as under-resourced, including in a report issued this week by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico. And its safeguards haven’t always worked. Francisco Romero Díaz was supposedly under protection when he was murdered this year in Quintana Roo; so was Rubén Pat, another journalist in the state, when he was killed last year. According to Le Monde, Condés, who was killed on Saturday, had recently requested protection, but turned down an eventual offer because of the bureaucracy associated with it.

Mexico’s grim climate for the press goes beyond immediate physical violence. Ownership of broadcast media is highly concentrated, and many outlets depend on government advertising, leaving them susceptible to official pressure. The government of Enrique Peña Nieto spied on journalists; Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist who replaced Peña Nieto as president last year, promised to do better by the press, but has frequently attacked reporting he doesn’t like in Trumpian terms. On at least one occasion, his words sparked death threats against staff at the newspaper Reforma. On another, López Obrador said journalists should “behave well” or “you know what will happen to you.”

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The chilling echo of those words rings through Mexico’s month of journalist murders. According to CPJ and Al Jazeera, Barragán, Nava, and Ruiz all moderated their journalistic behavior in the wake of recent threats—Barragán and Ruiz stopped putting their names to sensitive articles; Nava even took down stories about criminals—but such steps did not keep them alive. Mexico is a reminder that the murders of journalists aren’t just tragic individual data points, but ripple through the world’s information ecosystems, often suppressing efforts to expose the truth.

Below, more on Mexico, and press threats:

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, in an op-ed for CJR, Bernie Sanders outlined his plan to transform the media industry should he become president in 2020. A Sanders administration would put an immediate moratorium on media mega-mergers; require big media companies to disclose whether corporate transactions will involve journalism layoffs; give employees the chance to buy media outlets through employee stock-ownership plans; consider the effects of media regulation on women and people of color; limit the number of stations large broadcasting corporations can own, nationwide and in individual markets; boost newsroom unionization campaigns; and better enforce antitrust laws in Silicon Valley.
  • In 2016, STAT, a health news site, asked a court in Kentucky to unseal documents the state obtained from Purdue Pharma in a lawsuit (since settled) related to Purdue’s allegedly illegal marketing of OxyContin. The records will finally be made public after the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected Purdue’s appeal against a prior ruling. Also yesterday, a judge in Oklahoma handed down the first ever verdict holding a drug manufacturer—Johnson & Johnson—accountable for fueling the opioid epidemic. For CJR, Christopher Tedeschi, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University, argues that the news media was complicit in its spread.
  • The fallout continued from Sunday’s report, in The New York Times, that “a loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House” has compiled dossiers of social media posts incriminating hundreds of journalists at major outlets. Politico’s Jack Shafer says journalists’ old tweets are fair game; Splinter’s Hamilton Nolan argues that journalism is an action, not an identity, meaning journalists are human beings who sometimes do bad tweets. Either way, as the Post’s Erik Wemple writes, the “‘loose network of conservative operatives’ must be celebrating… having triggered not only an extensive scolding in the Times, but also an eight-paragraph memo from its publisher.”
  • In the absence of adequate legal accountability, investigative reporting has been a key driver of the #MeToo moment—but expecting journalism to stand in for due process is a mistake, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick argues. “Journalists can’t issue subpoenas. They can’t take depositions. Journalists do not have the capacity to take sworn testimony under oath. While both law and journalism claim to have the same aim—truth-seeking—the ground rules and guardrails of each mean they are not interchangeable.”
  • Following the recent Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, unsubstantiated rumors about threats to other Walmarts have circulated widely over private messaging apps such as iMessage and Snapchat, PolitiFact’s Daniel Funke reports. “Chain messages aren’t new,” he writes. “But misinformation that spreads on messaging apps is obscured from the public eye, making it harder for journalists to debunk it.”
  • In 1989, after 96 Liverpool soccer fans were killed in a stadium crush, The Sun, a right-wing British tabloid, wrongly blamed the fans for the disaster; many stores in the city have boycotted the paper ever since. Now researchers say the boycott influenced how residents of Liverpool voted in Britain’s 2016 “Brexit” referendum: many switched to The Daily Mirror, which is pro-Europe, in the absence of The Sun, which is anti-Europe.
  • And Damian Steiner, a tennis umpire who oversaw the final of Wimbledon last month, has been fired from the men’s circuit for granting unauthorized media interviews in his native Argentina. The Times’s Christopher Clarey has more.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.