State responsibility for Mexico’s self-censored media

The current climate of self-censorship among journalists in Mexico is unusual as an example of a limit on freedom of expression, as it is born not of armed conflict or revolution, but of a government’s inability to control criminal elements such as drug traffickers and gangs. Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnapping and violence against journalists in the world, resulting in many media sources ceasing to report upon topics that will place them at risk of retribution. Recently, one of the few newspapers that had so far stood against the trend has pled with gangs to provide guidelines on what it should and should not report, after a young photographer – the second member of the paper’s staff to be killed in two years – was shot earlier this month.

Directly, the large-scale gangs in Mexico are responsible for the repression of freedom of expression in the country’s media, with journalists plainly targeted when reporting or investigating gang-related criminal activities. Nevertheless, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has stated that in such a situation the Mexican government is to be held responsible for its failure to provide adequate protection to journalists, and to thereby defend the freedom of expression from restraint.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, in 2000, and the IACHR, in 2006, have emphasised the need for the State to take measures to reduce the widespread impunity in cases of violence against journalists, and the Mexican government has recently responded. President Calderon has announced a new protection plan, which includes an early warning system to allow threatened journalists priority access to authorities, legislative reforms and the establishment of a council dedicated to investigating the motives behind attacks on reporters. It remains to be seen whether Mexico’s freedom of expression can be restored while strong parallel powers actively seek its suppression.

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