Miami (November 20, 2020).- The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed its support for the newspaper AM of Mexico which faces a millionaire and disproportionate lawsuit for defamation. The organization considered that the complaint filed by a former municipal official would be aimed to "inhibiting the media from continuing to investigate and report on acts of corruption in the public administration."
Bárbara Botello, former mayor of León (2012-2015), in the state of Guanajuato, sued the owner of the newspaper, Enrique Gómez Orozco, for moral damage, libel, defamation and false information, and demands a compensation of 300 million pesos (around $14.5 millions). Botello argues that the newspaper's investigations into alleged acts of corruption during her tenure have caused her irreparable damage. On the other hand, AM's investigations and publications were used by the Municipality of León to criminally denounce the former mayor for embezzlement although the judicial process did not conclude.
The president of the IAPA, Jorge Canahuati, and the president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, said that although the IAPA is respectful of the conflicts that individuals try to resolve through the courts, it worries that "we are facing a typical case of a public official who seeks to discredit a news outlet, instead of demonstrating the transparency that she claims to have had during her administration, aspects that are of public interest."
Canahuati, president of Grupo Opsa, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Jornet, director of the newspaper La Voz del Interior, Córdoba, Argentina, recalled that public officials are more exposed to criticism and control from the press than private individuals. They considered that Justice should assess what is expressed by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in its article 10 states that in cases in which the person offended is a public official, "it must be proven that in disseminating the news, the social communicator had the specific intent to inflict harm, was fully aware that false news was disseminated, or acted with gross negligence in efforts to determine the truth or falsity of such news."
Also, Canahuati was surprised by the millionaire amount of the lawsuit requested by the former official. "If the lawsuit against AM were to take place," he said, "Mexican justice must take into account the principle of proportionality, to avoid abuses and excessive requests for monetary compensation that could have the same inhibitory effect for the media as the punishment of jail against the director and journalists."
Jornet added that many times the intention behind these demands tends to have harmful effects on press freedom, "since what is sought is to prevent media, or journalism in general, from continuing to investigate and report on acts of corruption in the public administration."
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.