Report to the Midyear Meeting
April, 20-23

Violence continues to be the greatest threat to freedom of the press. In this period four journalists were murdered: Arturo Alba Medina, Jesús Piñuelas, Israel Vázquez and Jaime Castaño - and Pablo Romero Chávez is still missing.

There is concern about the escalation of attacks on the media and journalists by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, given the polarized environment, the upcoming elections, and a pandemic that has proven difficult to control.

The lack of transparency regarding official advertising spending has only resulted in a discretional distribution in favor of media that he considers allies.

Arturo Alba Medina was a news anchor at Multimedios Televisión and was gunned down on October 30, 2020 while driving his vehicle after leaving the studio where he had just reported on corruption and crime within the police. He was 49 years old, had two children and lived in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.

Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas - known as "El Norris" and contributor to various local media outlets - was shot dead in the municipality of Cajeme, Sonora, on November 2, 2020. He was the founder of Zarathustra Press and El Shock de la Noticia. He worked for Televisora del Pacífico and ICE Agency.

A week later, the Sonora State Attorney General's Office arrested Francisco Bernardo "N", alias "El Foca", who reportedly accepted his guilt.

Israel Vázquez Rangel - a reporter for El Salmantino de Salamanca, Guanajuato - was shot and killed by two men on November 9, 2020, while covering the finding of a plastic bag containing human remains.

Jaime Daniel Castaño Zacarías - director of the PrensaLibreMx website and a City Hall employee in Jerez, Zacatecas - was murdered on December 9. Unknown assailants shot him shortly after taking photographs of two corpses found in the street.

Pablo Romero Chávez - who worked in the crime section of the newspaper El Vigía and in the mobile unit of radio station FM 105 - disappeared on March 25 in Guaymas, Sonora. After losing communication with the journalist, his relatives filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office, which is already investigating the case. Relatives said the journalist's car was found unlocked in front of his home and the door of the house was open.

In the midst of a growing health and economic crisis, and with setbacks to his ambitious "transformation projects," President López Obrador has identified the media as the enemy to be defeated. From the most important public space in the country - a daily morning conference, broadcast on television, YouTube and other social networks - he permanently attacks the media and journalists with a discourse riddled with discrediting remarks.

The president even shows the front pages of newspapers on large screens and corrects the editorial line; while he praises other media that support his statements and actions. Some journalists reinforce what the president wants to say - even opposing fellow journalists present. Added to this are the attacks via armies of bots that criticize, threaten and insult any critical voice.

The whole issue gets so risky that in her book "Un daño irreparable," researcher Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie recalls a press conference where a journalist from the Reforma newspaper questions the anti-Covid strategy of the Assistant Secretary of Health, Hugo López Gattel - he evades answering and she insists. Before getting a clear answer, the reporter began receiving insults on her social networks from accounts labeled as "bots."

The main thesis of the president and his cabinet is that the media is part of neoliberalism; that it engages in colonial journalism - he has stopped using simplistic adjectives such as the "preppy" press. For the president, there is no such thing as good faith criticism, but rather malicious opinions aimed at smearing his administration and him personally.

He boasts, however, that he will not exercise any censorship, nor will he promote the firing of journalists, since he believes in a system of freedom. And he excludes from his attacks the few media he considers loyal, the leftist newspaper La Jornada and the television station TV Azteca, part of another company that benefits from the distribution of public subsidies - which are the core of his social policy.

El Universal - one of the newspapers the President has insulted the most - published a series of interviews with journalists from across the political spectrum on the relationship between the Presidency and the media. Criticism prevailed, and even the most pro-presidential journalists suggested that he should moderate his comments and attacks.

On November 13, 2020, the IAPA expressed concern about the closing of a healthcare facility owned by the company that publishes the Mexican newspaper El Debate - in apparent reprisal for the editorial line of the media. The closing of the Mi Salud clinic, owned by Empresas El Debate, was considered by politicians of different parties and officials of the municipality of Ahome, in the state of Sinaloa, as a deliberate action to harm the newspaper.

In February, Senator Ricardo Monreal, of the Morena party, announced a worrisome bill to regulate social networks. He did so through the same digital platforms. The initiative aimed to reform the Federal Law of Telecommunications and Broadcasting and, among other things, proposed the creation of "Authorizations for social network services," established the definition of relevant social networks only for those with one million or more subscribers or users, and provided for a system of penalties and fines for content that users posted on the platforms. The bill generated controversy for its threat to press freedom and was withdrawn.

The Mexico chapter of the organization Artículo 19 presented its report in March, concluding that "two years into the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dynamics of stigmatization of the press, censorship, violation of human rights and the weakening or abandonment of the institutions created to check and balance power persist."

Entitled "Distortion: the discourse against reality," the report revealed that in 2020 disinformation from the government persisted; there was an attempt to control and censor the Internet, and there were 692 attacks against journalists.

The U.S. State Department presented its report on human rights violations which includes journalist Sanjuana Martínez - director of the state news agency, Notimex - as the culprit in the attempt to silence journalists, according to observations made by Artículo 19.

López Obrador criticized the U.S.A. for interfering with his opinion and described Artículo 19 as "an organization that is supported by foreigners; all the people involved with Artículo 19 belong to the conservative movement, which is against us". The newspaper La Jornada titled its main editorial: "Financed by the U.S.A., Artículo 19 encouraged the coup against Mexico."

In terms of official advertising, the secrecy and lack of transparent criteria for the distribution of funds prevails. The commitment to regulate publications considering the penetration and circulation of the media, did not go beyond a mere statement.

As a result of this situation, the newspaper Reforma published that in a two-year period, La Jornada has received more than 440 million pesos in advertising, "in addition it got million-dollar contracts awarded by the government of Mexico City and other municipalities for its subsidiary "Imprenta de Medios."

For 2020 the federal government approved $2,452 million pesos - almost half the budget approved for 2019 ($4,165 million pesos) - and $1,248,779,648 pesos were preliminarily spent in 2020; while $3,245,595,820 pesos were spent in 2019.