What a time it is in the world. On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, we spoke to our Special Award winner, POPLab in Mexico, about why it is so important to protect journalists whilst they do their job.
The role of journalists is of vital importance in any society, both to defend freedoms in the case of those that pride themselves as democracies and to reclaim them in those where this have been lost. Journalism contributes to the dissemination of accurate information and holding people accountable, but above all, it contributes to people’s right to know and, in turn, strengthens their will to participate.
In our times, journalism faces so many challenges: polarisation, fake news and a growing distrust from audiences, to name a few. And as a result, journalists face so many kinds of threats. Physical assaults, harassment on social media, smear campaigns, legal harassment and coercion. Sometimes, the threat comes from official authorities, making it even harder to counter them.
The situation in Mexico in this context is a cause for concern. Known widely as one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist, 162 journalists have been killed since 2000, with an impunity rate of nearly 100 percent. It is also the region with the highest number of missing reporters globally: 28 in 20 years, not to mention the displaced journalists forced to leave their homes due to the risks associated with their work in their communities.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often points out journalists he considers “enemies” of his movement or “mercenaries” during his daily press conferences, which means followers of public officials like this perceive the press as working for shadowy interests to discredit their leader.
Female journalists particularly suffer stigmatisation, harassment, threats, and physical violence. From 2018 to date, there have been 1547 aggressions against female journalists, 20 femicides, and more than 600 cases of institutional violence on record. The most common form of aggression is usually digital harassment, from which I myself have been a victim. Female journalists are objectified, with comments about their bodies and sexuality, to discredit their work.
I am encouraged however by the fact that despite these challenges, independent media outlets have emerged in many parts of the country, playing a fundamental role in exposing corruption, promoting human rights and defending freedom of expression by exposing government and corporate corruption, organised crime and violence, and other social and environmental issues.
In the Laboratory of Journalism and Public Opinion – POPLab – the media outlet that I co-founded with other colleagues in Guanajuato, one of the most violent states in Mexico, we have adopted the audience’s right to know as the guiding principle of our work. To keep telling the stories that the powerful don’t want told.
Our best weapon is to practice this profession rigorously, with a human rights perspective and a strategic yet firm defence of editorial independence. As organisations, it must be our priority to provide journalists with the support they need to practice this profession fearlessly but safely. It is only when journalism and journalists are allowed to thrive in an environment like this can we strengthen Mexico’s fledgling democracy to ensure a fairer and freer society. And for that reason alone, it is worth continuing the struggle with pen and paper.