2022 is the deadliest year on record for Mexican journalists

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The deadliest year in at least three decades for Mexican journalists and media workers is drawing to a close, with 15 murders, a dangerous situation underscored by a brazen attack this week on one of the journalists most prominent in the country. .

Two gunmen aboard a motorcycle fired at the armored vehicle of radio and television journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva 200 meters from his home on Thursday night. The journalist described the attack and posted photos of his vehicle on social media.

Solidarity has grown among Mexico’s press corps amid the carnage, and its members are making more and more noise after each murder. They have also rejected a longstanding government narrative that the victims were not real journalists or were corrupt.

Still, the murders, 15 counted by The Associated Press, have continued to rise.

This year, many of the dead were small-town reporters running their own outlets with very little money. Others were freelancers, even for national publications, in big cities like Tijuana.

Also Thursday, assailants targeted journalist Flavio Reyes de Dios, director of an online news site in Palenque, a town in the southern state of Chiapas. A vehicle without license plates followed him and then ran his motorcycle off the road, injuring the journalist, press advocacy group Article 19 said.

That incident attracted little attention. But it was national news that Gómez Leyva, who is one of the best-known journalists in Mexico, was shot. He is a regular critic of the government and a frequent target of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s tirades against criticism from the press.

However, López Obrador condemned the attack on Gómez Leyva on Friday. While he acknowledged that they had their differences, the president said: “It is completely reprehensible for someone to be attacked.”

Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico’s representative to the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the only nation that has seen more journalists killed this year is Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian invasion.

“We started collecting data on homicides of journalists in 1992, and it has been the highest number of murders of journalists in a single year, and we can also say that so far it seems to be the deadliest six-year term. term), which means the deadliest term of a single Mexican president if the current trend continues,” Hootsen said.

“Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both during the campaign and as president, has successfully politicized journalism in Mexico more than ever in recent memory,” Hootsen said.

Katherine Corcoran, author of “Into the Wolf’s Den: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press,” said one of the main reasons murders of journalists have remained stubbornly high in Mexico is that government officials are after many of them.

“It’s some kind of government corruption that’s being threatened or some kind of government empire that’s being threatened when they go after these journalists,” said Corcoran, a former Associated Press Mexico bureau chief.

The other factor is that the Mexican press has become more independent and aggressive, he said. “Reporters are really hitting a nerve and that’s what’s killing them.”

Corcoran’s book focused on the 2012 murder of one such journalist, Regina Martínez of the national news magazine Proceso. She said the murder of Martínez in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz overturned the government’s narrative that had long painted slain journalists as victims of its own corruption. Martínez was known, respected, ethical and believed himself beyond reproach.

Since Martínez was murdered in April 2012, at least 86 other journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

While there is more solidarity among journalists in Mexico, they still receive little support from the Mexican public. When a journalist is murdered, dozens of colleagues gather to protest, but usually there is not a wave of anger from the broader society.

Corcoran said that stems from a long period in which much of the Mexican press was part of the government machine and received significant amounts of money in exchange for positive coverage.

“This idea of ​​paying the press is going to haunt the press in Mexico forever, because it existed and came back intermittently,” he said.

López Obrador frequently insists on that point during his daily press conferences. His administration cut much of those government payments and says that’s why he gets critical coverage. Like former US President Donald Trump, López Obrador dismisses any critical press coverage as coming from corrupt reporters whom he calls his adversaries.

Last February, after five journalists had already been killed, the president said that journalists “lie as if they breathed.”

Still, Hootsen said there is no evidence that federal officials in the current administration are behind the violence against journalists. However, he said, “it is very disappointing to see that even though the government is not actively persecuting journalists, it has done very little to prevent the persecution of journalists by other actors, whether state or non-state.”

In the absence of such protection, Mexican journalists have prepared much better for situations of violence by creating formal and informal support and rapid response networks, as well as strengthening ties with civil society organizations, he said.

But when there are attacks against journalists, they rarely lead to arrests and even more rarely to convictions.

“In terms of impunity, we continue to see almost the same numbers that we have always seen, which means that more than 95% of all murders of journalists remain in impunity,” Hootsen said.

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