03/20/12 – The past week has been a roller coaster of sorts for members of the media in Mexico. On the one hand, a historical constitutional amendment was approved with the goal of better protecting journalists, their human rights, and the freedom of expression while simultaneously targeting the impunity that exists when journalists are victimized. However, one week after the amendment passed, an attack occurred against a newspaper agency in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. Although no one was killed during the car bombing, the incident has kept the national spotlight on the need to increase safety for media outlets.
The Mexican Senate unanimously passed the law to better protect journalists on March 13, nearly four months after the initiative was originally proposed to Congress back in November 2011. The amendment, which targets article 73 of the Constitution, states that any crime against journalists is now considered to be a federal offense and will therefore be investigated by the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), the Ministry of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP), the Center of Investigation and National Security (Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional, CISN), the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), and/or the Mexican Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR). As various news outlets reported, by moving such cases out of the hands of state police and authorities, “the legislation establishes accountability at senior levels of the national government, evading the more corrupt and less effective state law enforcement officials,” argues the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Senators from all major political parties expressed their hope that by doing this, it would decrease the levels of impunity that surround criminals who target journalists.
The executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon, congratulated Mexico for the historic amendment, noting, “This is a legislative milestone that has been years in the making.” However, he also offered caution in his support, recognizing the long journey still ahead for Mexico and the protection of journalists and media in the country. “At the same time,” continued Simon, “we note that it is only one step in the fight against impunity, a fight that will not be won until the killers of journalists are tried and sentenced.” Senator Alejandro Zapata Perogordo of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) reiterated Simon’s comment, emphasizing that “this is not a fully finished reform,” yet it still represents a significant step in the right direction towards “guaranteeing freedom of expression.”
The amendment is nevertheless much needed in Mexico given the incredibly high numbers of journalists killed, kidnapped, or disappeared over the years – 74 since 2000, 40 of which have occurred since 2006 when the Calderón administration took office. Mexico is also consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to work, with CPJ ranking it in fifth place for 2011 only behind Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya, and tied with Brazil. Indeed, not one week after the amendment passed in the Senate, a car bomb was detonated the night of March 19 outside of newspaper agency Expreso in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. Authorities reported only minor injuries to a few people in the area at the time of the explosion. In response to the attack, Expreso released the following statement: “We will not give up in our demand for security and justice. Words continue being our only resource and best bet. We profoundly refuse to be silent as an alternative to surviving.” The Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) will take the lead on the investigation with assistance from the State Attorney General’s Office in Tamaulipas (Procuraduría General de la Justicia del Estado, PGJE).