Mexico City, September 22, 2010--Calling the right to free expression a priority of his government, Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa pledged today to push for legislation that would make attacks on journalists a federal crime. In a lengthy meeting with a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Inter American Press Association, the president also said federal authorities will soon implement a program to provide security to at-risk journalists, one modeled after a successful effort in Colombia.
"We categorically reject any attack against journalists because this is an assault against democratic society," Calderon said. "It pains me that Mexico is seen as one of the most dangerous places for the profession."
The president promised to work for passage of federal legislation that would make attacks against free expression a federal crime. In 2008, the president proposed a Constitutional amendment that included federalization of anti-press crimes, among other things, but the measure stalled in Congress.
Calderon also announced the arrest of a suspect in the 2008 murder of prominent Ciudad Juarez reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón, a killing that shook the Mexican press corps. Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez said later that the suspect and his accomplices had been motivated by Rodriguez's coverage of drug trafficking.
"President Calderon showed his deep commitment to press freedom issues by spending an hour and half with our delegation openly discussing the challenges and pledging a robust response," said Joel Simon, CPJ executive director. "We commit to doing our part to ensure that Mexican journalists can work freely and safely in the face of this perilous environment."
IAPA Vice President Gonzalo Marroquin added: "We came to Mexico with the intention of expressing solidarity with the government, with the people of Mexico, and with journalists and media in this country. We want to build a common front against violence and thereby protect the fundamental right of citizens to be informed."
Drug-fueled crime, violence, and corruption have devastated the country's press corps and destroyed citizens' rights to freedom of expression and access to information, CPJ found in September 8 special report, Silence or Death in Mexico's Press. More than 30 journalists have been killed or have disappeared in Mexico in the last four years alone, CPJ research shows, a number that rivals war-wracked countries such as Iraq and Somalia. These cases have gone almost entirely unsolved, a product not only of negligence and incompetence but of deep-seated corruption among law enforcement officials, particularly at the state and local levels, CPJ found.
CPJ and IAPA have long advocated federal intervention to address the crisis. In its report, CPJ called on Congress and the president to adopt sweeping reforms that would make crimes against free expression part of the federal penal code, assign to federal authorities the responsible for investigating and prosecuting all attacks on the press, and establish accountability at senior levels of the national government.
Today's meeting, in the presidential office in Los Pinos, included Attorney General Chávez and Minister of Interior José Francisco Blake. The CPJ delegation consisted of Simon, board member María Teresa Ronderos, Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría, and Mexico representative Mike O'Connor. The IAPA delegation, led by Marroquín, included Executive Director Julio Munoz and Press Institute Director Ricardo Trotti.