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A call for Mexico to investigate murders of journalists

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last Sunday, journalist Lourdes Maldonado was killed in Tijuana, Mexico. She was found shot to death inside a parked car. It was a shocking crime that sparked protests around the country, but unfortunately not a surprise because Maldonado was the third journalist to be murdered in Mexico just this month. And she had also publicly expressed concern for her own safety. At a press conference back in 2019, Maldonado asked the country's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for help, saying she feared for her life.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LOURDES MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

M MARTIN: The president promised to help at that press conference, and this week he called for an investigation into Maldonado's death. But the reality is that most murder cases involving journalists in Mexico never make it to trial. That's according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ. And the CPJ reports that last year, nine journalists were murdered in Mexico, the most for any country in 2021. We've called Paula Saucedo to hear more about the conditions journalists are facing because she works for Article 19. That's an organization dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of the press in Mexico and Central America. And she's with us now from Mexico City. Paula Saucedo, thank you so much for joining us.

PAULA SAUCEDO: Thank you for inviting me.

M MARTIN: And, of course, our condolences on the loss of your colleague and an all journalists who've lost their lives doing their work.

SAUCEDO: Thank you.

M MARTIN: Where do the threats against journalists come from? Is it related to their reporting on drug cartels? Is there a pattern that you can see? Is it related to reporting on government officials, for example? Do you have a sense of where these threats are coming from?

SAUCEDO: Well, the majority of the death threats and other type of threats like sexual violence threats and other - they're, like, linked to directly to the corruption and politics coverage. More than 50% of the attacks that Article 19 register are like - we can link with this type of coverage. That was the type of coverage that Lourdes was doing, like, corruption in politics. And following this coverage is security or notaro (ph), as we call it in Mexico, that has the second most dangerous coverage that journalists do in Mexico. And that was, like, the coverage that Margarito Martinez, another journalist that was killed last week also in Tijuana, he was covering things related to security and organized crime. So those are the two biggest coverage linked to the violence against the press in Mexico.

M MARTIN: If you can kind of describe this for me, because what it's like to work in an environment in such a hostile environment, I think people in the United States will, you know, know if they think about this, that, you know, we've just come from a period in which the president of the United States regularly maligned the media. You know, many journalists felt that he encouraged his supporters to disparage and to threaten and be threatening and aggressive toward the media. And, of course, people have experienced doxxing - right - for example, having their personal information, you know, put in the public sphere, hoping, you know. And so, of course, people have experienced that. But journalists being murdered is shocking in a country that is not supposedly at war - right? - and that is supposed to be a democracy. And so can you - forgive me for sort of - can you just kind of paint a picture for me? Like, what is it like going to work every day for people who are facing this?

SAUCEDO: Multiple things, of course, like violence against the press in Mexico, is caused by multiple things. And one of the things is precarity. So a lot of journalists needed to - they don't have like a contract. They have to work multiple hours to bring, like, income - like enough income to survive. And that also, like, pushes them to look for other, like, different sources of income. And that also brings another problem that is like sometimes authorities don't investigate crimes against journalists because they're saying, oh, he or she wasn't a journalist. They were doing something else. That, of course, increases the vulnerability and risks that the journalists have.

Another thing is around 40% of the attacks against the press in Mexico is perpetrated by public servants. So it's not only like the state is not doing anything. They're actually doing some something in the reproduction of violence, in perpetrating the violence against journalists. So, of course, if journalists in Mexico are covering corruption and then they're being attacked by public servants, you can understand why there's a lot of impunity. And it's, like, super complex to tackle into to reduce this problem because there are - like, the state is the highest threat for the press in Mexico.

M MARTIN: Journalist Katherine Corcoran, who worked in Mexico for The Associated Press, wrote a piece recently in The Washington Post. And she argued that the murder of journalists isn't just about journalists. I mean, she made note that journalists generally don't like to make themselves the subject of the story. But she argued that this represents a serious threat to democracy and security in the country. What do you think about that? Are you concerned, you know, for the state of democracy, at least as it relates to freedom of speech, freedom of the press in Mexico, the free flow of information?

SAUCEDO: Exactly. We are, like, very worried because in a country that is so corrupt as Mexico is, we need the press to know about what is happening - right? - like to access to other rights. So when the country - when the state and the authorities are saying that in Mexico there is a democracy, it's like a paper democracy. It's not a real democracy because we register an attack against the press every 14 hour because they're doing their job. So we cannot talk about democracy when you're killing and silencing the people that are helping the society to get information.

M MARTIN: And what would make a difference, in your view?

SAUCEDO: I think one of the things is we as citizens as well, we need to understand the impacts that attacking the press could have and is having in our lives. Also, the international, like, sphere, like, other countries and foreign countries like United Nations, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, that they need to call these governments like Mexico or another to stop the violence against the press, to start doing something, to stop stigmatizing the press as well, because that, of course, increases the risk of the press to keep, like, suffering attacks. So they need to start investigating the crimes. They need to start investigating the crimes. Otherwise, it's going to be very difficult to prevent violence.

M MARTIN: That was Paula Saucedo, protection and defense program officer at Article 19. It's an organization that promotes and defends freedom of the press in Mexico and Central America. Paula, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us.

SAUCEDO: Thank you for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.