Deadly violence against Mexican journalists must end
This violence, which affects all Mexicans, is the result of decades of political corruption and large-scale repression. In fact, it represents only the tip of the iceberg of the ills that have rocked Mexican journalism and continually threaten freedom of expression in the country.
The tragedy of press freedom in Mexico, especially among journalists who are ordinary citizens, has three fronts: media companies that work journalists into servitude; political power, which threatens them with harsh criticism; and organized crime which, allied with political power, attacks them with shameful and rampant impunity.
The figures are shocking: from 2000 to date, 153 journalists have been murdered in Mexico, 141 men and 12 women, according to statistics from the human rights organization Article 19.
This situation makes Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist, according to Reporters Without Borders. At the center of this extremely dangerous backdrop is the state of Veracruz, located on the Gulf of Mexico, where 31 journalists have been murdered since 2000, the highest number in the entire country.
The city of Veracruz is one of the most important ports in the region and a strategic route for drug trafficking disputed by drug cartels. Veracruz is also the third state of Mexico, which allows for an in-depth analysis of the situation of journalists and perhaps suggestions for ending these massacres.
In Mexico, journalists face three main challenges. The first, and most outrageous, are the working conditions, which make journalists very vulnerable. In most cases, this leads to a strong dependence on political and even criminal power.
Freelance reporters often receive 50 pesos (about $2.46) per story, while salaried reporters earn a monthly salary of about 5,000 pesos ($245). This means that to earn a living, journalists have to work in three or even four outlets without benefits, such as health or housing insurance. The consequences are job insecurity and poor quality work.
In this context, the media become highly dependent on political and governmental power, since many journalists depend on access to public funding. Moreover, there is endemic corruption within the press, which has led many journalists, out of necessity or ambition, to accept money, known as “chayos‘. To survive, many media are forced to seek agreements with governments, putting their editorial line “for sale”, working almost hand in hand with the political power in place.
The result is a uniform press, with little criticism of the government and its unfettered use of public money. It is important to stress that these conditions place investigative journalists and critical media that go beyond the status quo at a complete disadvantage and in a hostile environment.
The second challenge is political power which, according to several NGOs, is the main threat to the press. Working conditions and the government’s power to control public money through advertising create a double vulnerability for journalists and the media.
The current government’s mentality towards the press is the same as that expressed by former President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in the 1960s: “I don’t pay to be beaten.