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Mexico Surpassess Syria As The Most Dangerous Country For Journalists

Sep 10, 2019
Originally published on September 10, 2019 6:54 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Mexico now, which is reportedly the most deadly country in the world for journalists, more dangerous even than Syria. That is according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The question is why? Many point to violence in the country, but as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, press advocates point to something else. They say Mexico's president and his increasingly harsh rhetoric toward the media aren't helping the situation.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: So far this year, 12 journalists have been killed. The last few weeks have been particularly brutal. In late August, a reporter in central Mexico state was found stabbed to death in his home. A month earlier, in just one week, three journalists were killed. Two of the four had sought protection under Mexico's journalist protection program, which was created in 2012 to aid threatened reporters. Sara Lidia Mendiola runs a legal advocacy organization for journalists called Propuesta Civica.

SARA LIDIA MENDIOLA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The journalist program isn't working. It can't sufficiently provide protection for reporters in the current climate of violence taking over the country," she says. Homicide rates in general in Mexico have hit record levels with nearly 100 murders a day. Most are never solved.

MENDIOLA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "As long as there is not a credible fight against impunity, these murders against journalists are not going to stop," says Mendiola. She says 99% of all journalists murder cases go unpunished. Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, had promised to combat violence and the journalist murders when he came into office last December. But press advocates say he's made no progress and may be making the situation worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: Buenos dias.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTERS: Buenos dias.

KAHN: Every weekday morning at 7 a.m., Lopez Obrador briefs the press. Given the president's halted speech and open-ended format, the press conferences, however, can last more than two hours and occasionally turn into sparring matches with journalists, like this exchange last month with a reporter from the independent magazine Proceso.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The president took exception to a question by the reporter and launched into a long response about the role of the press. Proceso has not behaved well with us, said Lopez Obrador.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Spanish).

LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The role of the press is not to behave well with anyone, President," responded the reporter, "but to inform." Lopez Obrador often criticizes the press. He calls the media conservative, out of touch or fifi, slang in Spanish for elite. Homero Campa is an editor at Proceso magazine.

HOMERO CAMPA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Such language is very dangerous in a country where the press is so vulnerable," says Campa. State and local officials now mimic Lopez Obrador, using the same rhetoric to attack the press, he says. Press advocates say this is most worrying given that the majority of journalist murders in Mexico according to federal officials take place at the local levels at the hands of state actors. For his part, Lopez Obrador defends his tough stance. He says he's calling out sloppy journalists, bad actors and enemies. And his party in Congress is currently writing a new law to strengthen protections for journalists. The lead lawmaker in that effort, however, declined NPR's repeated requests for an interview. Sara Mendiola of Propuesta Civica says the new law is a good step in providing more protection for reporters in Mexico.

MENDIOLA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But she says, "we don't have a lot of hope that things are going to change. One law alone can't do it," she says. "We need the president to change his tone. That will help immensely," she adds.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.