By Jacqueline Eckhardt-Gerritsen
Last March 20, Article 19's regional office for Mexico and Central America, published its most recent report 'Forced silence: the state, an accomplice in violence against journalists in Mexico'. Approximately 200 representatives of the media, international organisations, governmental bodies and universities came to the widely announced event in the center of Mexico city.
According to the director of this regional office of Aricle 19, Dario Ramírez, this is the most critical report about violations against the media up until today. The criticisms are especially addressed at the government – since almost 42% of all violations against journalists were comitted by employees of different government agencies. For example, the police and the army. 'Just' 13% of all violations against the media were comitted by the organised crime scene.
Beside much rhetoric the Mexican government hasn't shown much vigour in tackling the problem, Ramírez says. The 'Office of the Special Prosecutor for Freedom of Expression', established six years ago, is an example: the name of the institution changed twice and the desk has already had four different chairmen in a few years. In only 27 cases charges were pressed and just in one case this led to an actual condemnation. Furthermore, the research budget of the office has dropped with more than 70%.
A variety of people commented on the rapport during the day. Tosa Isela Caballero García was the first to speak up. Her husband, José Antonio García Apac, used to work for the newspaper 'Exos de la Cuenca de Tepaltepec' in Michoacán. He used to write on environmental issues, corruption and drug trafficking. In November 2006 he disappeared. No one has heard from him since. “The government is not really trying to find my husband,” Rosa Isela tells steadfastedly. Despite of her personal grief, her anger because of the inactivity of official institutions and the care for her six children, Rosa Isela became an activist committed to stop violence against the media in general. She wants justice for all journalists.
Thereafter a panel of four journalists has its say: Javier Garza is director of the Mexican newspaper ' El Siglo de Torreón', which has twice been target of attacks already. He and his staff have by now lost their confidence in the authorities and took justice into their own hands. They introduced protocols that define the daily work: the security of the building, the physical security of the reporters, the selection of themes, the place of a piece in the newspaper, etcetera. “ These measures helped to prevent more attacks,” Garza says.
Rachel Levin is correspondent for Al-Jazeera in Mexico. “Mexico is important for Al-Jazeera, we offer news form the whole country, including the conflict areas,” Levin stresses. Al-Jazeera, being an international company, obviously has more money to guarantee the security of its staff. According to Levin, it is therefore crucial to draw attention to the vulnerability of local media and to contribute to solidarity within the sector.
Javier Darío Restrepo is Colombian and one of the best-known journalists of the continent, having 50 years of experience, especially with ethical aspects of journalism. Reading the report evoked a lot of emotions in him. Seeing the wave of violence in Mexico, causing tens of thousands of victims since 2006, joint actions are very much needed. Also amongst journalists. Restrepo emphasises the national agreement regarding violence-related coverage to be “the most sensible move” of the Mexican press. More than 700 media outlets signed the agreement, in which common editorial criteria are set. “Most significant is not the content of this agreement, but the fact that a variety of media has come together to prevent violence in the sector.”
Lastly, Lydia Cacho, renowned Mexican investigate journalist and member of the Board of Directors of Article 19 in Mexico and Central America, speaks. According to Cacho the work of Article 19 is very relevant; not only because they do research, but especially because of their help to threatened journalists.
Towards 12 o'clock local time, in the middle of Cacho's speech, all of a sudden the earth starts shaking. People quickly realise that a heavy earthquake is taking place (7,6 on Richter scale). Some attendants start crying, screaming and try to escape the building. Other people call for calmness. Within several minutes, hundreds of people are on the street – the attendants of the Article 19 event, together with regular museum visitors and employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located just around the corner. Suddenly, Rosa Isela, the wife of the disappeared journalist, is standing next to me together with her eldest son. Her story deeply moved me. Afterwards, I heard that her son wants to become a documentary film maker. His dream is to make a documentary about the fate of his father to show the importance of the work journalists do in society.
This is the reality in Mexico – violence against the media and … earthquakes.
Jacqueline Eckhardt-Gerritsen is quality and knowledge coordinator at Free Press Unlimited.
Article 19 is an international organisation advocating for freedom of expression, press freedom, access to information and strengthening the media-sector worldwide. Free Press Unlimited works with Article 19 Mexico and Central America since 2010. The abovementioned report has come about with the support of Free Press Unlimited. In the upcoming years both organisations will expand their collaboration in areas of press freedom and safety for journalists.