Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mexico poised to increase protection for journalists, federalizing anti-press crimes

New law passes handily in Mexican Senate, now moves to 32 state legislatures

Mexico's Senate today will take up a proposed constitutional amendment designed to greatly enhance legal protection for journalists. The proposal enjoys wide support across party lines and is expected to pass.

The measure would federalize most crimes against working journalists, including murder, and authorize federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute such offenses . Under current law journalist-focused crimes are for the most part state level offenses. By proposing to place the new law in the constitution itself, rather than enact it as an ordinary criminal statute, Mexican legislators are signalling their determination to get tough on crimes directed at the press.

The Mexican constitution already guarantees freedom of the press and speech to everyone, including non-citizens. But those rights mean nothing to drug cartel sicarios (executioners), who at times have kidnapped and decapitated reporters investigating organized crime. The proposed journalists' amendment would become part of article 73, and would cover attacks against press facilities. Last year a commando squad in Veracruz launched a brazen arson assault against a local newspaper. Although no one was hurt, the building was damaged and its contents (computers, printing presses, etc.) were destroyed. The paper was put out of business for days. The motive remains unclear.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, according to several international organizations. At least 75 have been killed or disappeared under mysterious circumstances since 2000, and 11 died in 2011. Most have been executed at the hands of presumed narcotics traffickers, drug cartels or organized crime groups.

Undoubtedly, a secondary purpose of the pending legislation is to quell repeated complaints, both domestically and by international organizations, that Mexico has not done enough to protect the press, especially reporters covering the drug war. Once passed by the Senate the measure then passes to Mexico's 32 state legislatures. Since it's a constitutional amendment, at least 16 of them must approve it before it becomes law.

The United State has neither a constitutional provision nor federal laws which deal with the physical safety of reporters, despite the fact that American courts have recognized in hundreds of cases that the protection of news gathering is one of the primary purposes of the First Amendment. But violence against U.S. reporters has been extremely rare. The last major incident of such occurred in 1976, when Arizona Republic reporter Dan Bolles was murdered in the parking lot of a Phoenix hotel while investigating organized crime (Challenges abound to a free press in Latin America, due to organized crime, hostile governments: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/11/organized-crime-hostile-governments.html).

Jun. 6 - It's official. The amendment has been approved by a sufficient number of states and crimes against the press are federal offenses in Mexico as of today. Entran en vigor las reformas a la Ley de Periodistas: http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/noticias2011/5cd5591293dd412fbffd7ac74cd4dc8f.

Mar. 13: Mexico's Senate passed the proposed constitutional amendment this afternoon.

Three more journalists killed in Veracruz: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.mx/2012/05/three-more-journalists-killed-in.html.
Another female journalist murdered in Mexico: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.mx/2012/04/another-journalist-murdered-in-mexico.html.
A Free Press under fire in Mexico: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.mx/2012/03/free-press-under-fire-in-mexico-and.html.
Mexican journalist deaths continue to rise: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2012/01/mexican-journalist-deaths-continue-to.html.
U.N. says Mexico is death zone for journalists: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/09/united-nations-says-mexico-is-death.html .
Woman reporter brutally executed in Veracruz: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.com/2011/11/veracruz-press-furious-over-prosecutors.html.
Amnesty International demands action in case of murdered journalist: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/09/amnesty-international-demands-action-in.html.
Journalistic group files legal complaint against Mexico over reporters' deaths: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/10/mexico-fails-to-protect-journalists.html.
Veracruz newspaper hit by arson attack: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/11/veracruz-newspaper-fire-bombed.html.

Mexican Senate Chamber

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