When it comes to the safety of journalists, Mexico hasn’t changed
By Témoris Grecko
Témoris Grecko is a Mexican journalist and political analyst, author of “Killing the Story” and documentary “The Truth Shall Not Be Killed”.
On October 29, two gang members shot local TV anchor Arturo Alba Medina, 49, in Ciudad Juárez, right on the Texan border. His body was found in his car with eleven bullet wounds. Three days later, a similar fate awaited independent reporter Jesús Piñuelas Montes, 43, in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora State. On November 9, Israel Vázquez Rangel, 31, was shot dead while investigating the discovery of human remains in Salamanca, a city in Central Mexico. That’s three murdered journalists in just twelve days.
On the same day that Israel was killed, in the east of the country, in Cancún, a women’s rights protest was attacked by police. Officers appeared without warning, shooting overhead but sometimes aiming at protesters. Five people were wounded, including the two journalists. Meanwhile, in the south, the city of Iguala in Guerrero, reporters were figuring out how to react to a message sent to their private WhatsApp accounts by an organized crime group. They were told to stop covering crime. If any of them dared to disobey, one of the journalists said, “someone will be murdered the same way our colleague Pablo Morrugares was shot dead back in August.”
In 2017, twelve journalists were killed in Mexico, the highest number in the world, equal only to Syria, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Then, on November 15, reporters in the Pacific resort of Mazatlán staged a public demonstration in support of photojournalist Carlos Zataráin, 25, fearing for his life as he had been abducted the previous night. He was released a few hours later.
I feel like I am back in March 2017, the most violent month in history for Mexican journalists. In that month alone, three reporters were murdered; there were direct attempts on the lives of three more (a reporter’s bodyguard was killed); a colleague who was covering a street fight between groups in a workers’ organization was wounded in the crossfire; three foreign correspondents were stopped, interrogated, and robbed in the countryside; and a group of seven journalists was beaten up and robbed at night on a highway by a mob of intoxicated teenagers goaded by a criminal gang. Despite being threatened with death, they were eventually released. All within four weeks, in nine states.
That year, twelve journalists were killed in Mexico, the highest number in the world, equal only to Syria, according to Reporters Without Borders.
In Mexico, “It’s infinitely more dangerous to report on an assassination than it is to commit it.”
Violence was one of the reasons motivating a massive, historic popular vote in 2018 against all parties who had ruled Mexico thus far. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a maverick Leftist candidate, steamrolled his rivals, garnering 53% of the votes (30 points ahead his nearest competitor), campaigning on a platform against corruption and impunity.
On his inauguration day López Obrador announced the dawn of a new era. He portrayed a country that had changed overnight. We knew that was impossible, but we gave him time to fulfill his promises. We still are. The tune we hear now is no different from before. The number of murdered journalists may not be as high as it was under Peña Nieto, but it’s getting there, and the last two weeks have left us with a sense of a dejà vu. Already, in 2020, eight reporters have lost their lives in Mexico, double the number of the country with the next highest number of murdered journalists: Iraq. Pakistan, Syria, and Honduras have each seen three journalists killed.
Journalist John Gibler says that, in Mexico, “It’s infinitely more dangerous to report on an assassination than it is to commit it.” This is because killing a journalist comes without penalty. The vast majority of cases do not even go to trial, and in the very rare cases that they do, those charged are usually restricted to those who directly carried out the killing. The intellectual authors of these crimes never find themselves in court.
López Obrador had little to say about the violence against journalists. He is deep in an ongoing feud with the country’s most influential media: the one that lined their pockets under previous regimes and now feel aggrieved at their loss of power and revenue. Every day, the president and the media trade attacks. He despises them, and as a result, he seems to despise all journalists. Although he defends freedom of speech, he ignores the fact that non-partisan journalism still exists and that journalists are still working in conditions of extreme peril nearly two years into his administration.
When it comes to the safety of journalists, Mexico hasn’t changed and it doesn’t seem to be changing, certainly not while politicians, businessmen, and gang members know that they can get away with murdering any reporter they are unhappy with. Two years after López Obrador announced a new era, the song remains the same.
Killing the Story: Journalists Risking Their Lives to Uncover the Truth in Mexico is on sale now. Support your local independent bookstore and order through Bookshop.org.