25 February 2020

IAPA trusts Mexican Supreme Court to maintain press freedom standards

Controversy in Mexico about the right to reply.

Miami (February 25, 2020) - In the midst of a controversy involving one of the main Mexican media, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) expressed its confidence today that the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico will continue to uphold previous rulings which protect the application of the right of reply using press freedom principles, as well as respect the independence of, and editorial due process, followed by the media.

The controversy involves the newspaper El Universal de México and the current magistrate and former president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Luis María Aguilar Morales.

Currently, Aguilar Morales is in charge of drafting a ruling on the right to reply against El Universal, which involves a former presidential candidate, Ricardo Anaya. In 2018, the Mexican newspaper published reports regarding Anaya's bulky assets. The Mexican politician and the newspaper then began a legal process around the right to reply. After exhausting several instances, the case reached the Supreme Court of Justice.

Last week El Universal asked the Supreme Court to recuse Minister Aguilar Morales from the case after he presented a draft sentence against the newspaper for the third time, which could crack the doctrine on the right to reply in the country, seeking to favor the judge's position.

Last April, El Universal published a story based on a report by the Federal Judicial Council (CJF) that revealed that during the administration of Aguilar Morales as president of the Court works were authorized that put the CJF at risk of legal action for non-recoverable expenses.

Although twice the majority of the ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice have argued in favor of the position of El Universal, and on freedom of expression, Aguilar Morales has again presented a draft sentence whose content undermines the media.

Roberto Rock, president of the IAPA Press Freedom and Information Commission, said El Universal's legal argument is well founded, because the high court has rejected several proposals from this magistrate for sentences that would allow punishment to be applied to media that publish information that politicians want to keep secret or that force them to publish unedited or unsubstantiated responses.

Christopher Barnes, president of the IAPA, expressed his confidence that the Supreme Court will know how to balance the right of reply with the right to freedom of the press and due respect for the editorial criteria of the media. "Even in publishing a response to story, which is the right of the aggrieved, media must adhere to journalistic principles and ethics which will often necessitate editing the submission. Media must always find the appropriate balance to allow both sides of the story without compromising ethics or integrity. The public whom we serve demands that of us. We trust that the Supreme Court will see it this way too."

Barnes and Rock added that the right to reply has limits even though it is a mechanism that assists every person who feels offended by a publication. Among those limits, they noted that public officials are subject to greater scrutiny according to international standards on press freedom, and that the replies do not reflect opinions, but rather concrete facts in response to the published allegations. "Otherwise," they said, "it would be establishing a privilege for public officials and politicians to the detriment of the public's right to know about who administers public money."

The IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from the Western Hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.