A string of murdered Mexican journalists since late April has human rights organizations and press freedom groups alarmed.
Since April 28, six reporters and photographers have been found murdered in different parts of Mexico. An administrative staff at a newspaper was also killed.
“In reality, in many parts of Mexico, the cartels, military, and police operate in a vacuum,” says Amnesty International’s Mexico researcher Rupert Knox on the current situation there. Anyone who reports on what those groups do, he adds, may be putting themselves in “extreme danger.”
Knox also says that the rate of impunity for those who murder journalists is very high, despite recent legislation that makes it a federal offense to kill a reporter. In March, a constitutional amendment was passed by Mexico’s Senate to allow federal authorities to investigate such crimes. The legislation also makes senior national government officials accountable for investigations instead of the infamously corrupt and ineffective state-level law enforcement officials.
Knox points out that the constitutional reform still has to be codified into law, but he says human rights organizations like Amnesty are hopeful that it will become “another weapon in the armory” of protection for journalists. In the meantime, journalists will have to continue fending mostly for themselves, a proposition made more difficult by the country’s media culture.
“Journalists [in Mexico] aren’t very well organized as a group,” says Knox, adding that in general, the more localized a media outlet is, the more vulnerable it is.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission puts the number of murdered journalists since 2000 at 81. The commission says that another 14 have simply disappeared.
“Journalists, particularly those who have reported on drug trafficking or have been critical of security forces and authorities, have faced serious harassment and attacks,” says a recent Human Rights Watch report. “While many attacks on the press in 2011 were attributed to organized crime, evidence points to the possible involvement of state officials in some instances.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Crime beat reporting is the most dangerous work for the Mexican press.”
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