IAPA Midyear Meeting 2018

Medellín, Colombia

Killings of journalists continue to be the greatest threat to press freedom. Four journalists have been killed since the IAPA met in Salt Lake City, and a total of 12 were killed in 2017.

On a positive note, Mexico's Supreme Court ordered Congress to regulate the placement of government advertising in media outlets.

Gumaro Pérez, 35, who founded and reported for a website called La Voz del Sur in the municipality of Acayucan, was killed on December 19. Two assailants opened fire on him while he was a Christmas party at his son's elementary school. Pérez had reported on security issues and, in response to death threats against him, the state government had been providing security for him since 2015 while he was on reporting assignments.

Carlos Domínguez, 77, a columnist for the Matamoros newspaper Horizonte, was killed on January 13, 2018, in Tamaulipas. He had reported on the political dispute in Tamaulipas leading up to the municipal elections. Several suspects in the killing were arrested between March 24 and March 27, including three journalists: Jorge Alfredo Cantú García, a relative of the Nuevo Laredo mayoral candidate of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena); Gabriel Garza, a contributor to El Diario of Nuevo Laredo; Luis Ignacio Valtierra Hernández, president of the Union of Democratic Journalists; and Juan Jesús González Zúñiga, an independent journalist.

Pamela Montenegro, 36, a blogger for the website Denuncia Acapulco sin Censura, was killed on February 5. She had also hosted a program of political satire called Montenegro on the web channel El Sillón TV. The local prosecutors' office has stated that she was killed by a local criminal group. Two assailants shot her several times in the head while she was having dinner with family members at an Acapulco restaurant. She had been threatened.

Leobardo Vázquez, 42, was killed on March 20 in Veracruz. He had operated a news site called Enlace Gutiérrez Zamora on Facebook. He had previously worked for the newspapers La Opinión of Poza Rica and Vanguardia, and he was an editor and layout artist for the newspaper Noreste, cofounder of the magazine El Portal, and press officer for the mayor's office in Papantla. According to colleagues, he was planning to request protection in response to threats he had received after publishing criticism of an attorney and former municipal leaders. He was home when he was struck by shots fired from a passing motorcycle.

On March 23, two former police officers were sentenced to 25 years in prison for their involvement in the January 2015 killing of Moisés Sánchez Cerezo in Veracruz. The state attorney general's office reported that Luigui Heriberto and José Francisco were convicted for aggravated murder and failure to uphold their legal duty, and they will also have to pay 332,250 pesos in reparations. Sánchez Cerezo was the founder of, and a reporter for, the online news site La Unión. He had denounced criminal activity in and around the municipality of Medellín de Bravo. He was abducted from his home on January 2, 2015, and his dismembered body was found on January 24 of this year.

The organization known as Article 19 has counted 115 killings of journalists in Mexico, potentially in connection with their work, since 2000. Nine of these victims were women, and 106 were men. Twelve journalists were killed in 2017, along with 507 incidents of assault against journalists and 11 journalists who were displaced in response to threats. The assaults were most heavily concentrated in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Baja California Sur, and Guerrero, as well as Mexico City.

Forty-two killings were reported during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. Veracruz, with 11, has been the state with the most killings during this six-year term.

On two occasions—in 2007 and in early 2014—Mexico's Congress failed to follow through on proposals to regulate government advertising after journalists' organizations had called for an end to the discretionary placement of such spending. Now, after Article 19 filed for an injunction, the Supreme Court ruled on November 15 that Congress must remedy this gap in Mexican law by April 30 of this year. The court ordered Congress to legislate on the basis of "efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity," as stated in Article 134 of the Constitution.

"The lack of regulations on government advertising," the court ruled, "leads to the arbitrary use of the budget for public communication, thereby indirectly curtailing freedom of expression."

According to an organization called Fundar, the government spent US$200 million on advertising in the past five years, with 56% of this amount going to 20 media outlets and 44% to 3,000 outlets.

The debate is now open, and there are three issues to consider: how to define government advertising, what should be the criteria for placement (reach, penetration), and how to measure the reach of a media outlet (circulation, unique users, etc.).

This election year has seen a number of journalistic initiatives put forward on transparency and accountability for the candidates in the July 1 presidential elections, as well as proposals for combatting "fake news."

One of these initiatives is Verificado 2018, put forward by the online news site Animal Político. This initiative—which represents the combined efforts of 60 entities, including media outlets, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and universities—is aimed at identifying false information in social media, in online media outlets, and in candidates' speeches.

La Lupa, an initiative put forward by the newspaper El Universal, is aimed at identifying inconsistencies in the platforms of presidential candidates by comparing their campaign speeches and promises with hard data to confirm or debunk their statements.

De Hecho, an initiative of the Mexican Publishers Association, would work in partnership with three NGOs to fact-check the candidates' statements and cross-check them against the media outlets' databases to determine whether the statements are true, partly false, or completely false.

In a March 28 decision deemed a victory for press freedom, the federal electoral tribunal ruled in favor of the newspaper El Universal against Ricardo Anaya, the candidate of the coalition known as "Por México al Frente." Anaya had used campaign ads on radio and television when he was a leader of the National Action Party (PAN) to defend himself against criticism based on the investigative journalism of El Universal related to his personal wealth. In his legal dispute with the newspaper, Anaya was initially supported by the National Electoral Institute, which did not force him to withdraw his advertising even though he was using public funds to defend himself in a personal matter.

The federal electoral tribunal ruled that the improper use of advertising by Anaya and the PAN undermines press freedom and the ability to practice journalism.