Mexico ‘One of The World’s Most Dangerous Places for Journalists’

By Mark Browne | May 12, 2016 | 10:09pm EDT
Journalists hold a late night vigil to protest the latest murder of a fellow journalist, in Veracruz, Mexico on Saturday Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez, File)

Mexico City ( – Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used to threaten female journalists in Mexico, where authorities “aren’t interested” in investigating the growing digital menace to freedom of expression, according to local and international human rights groups.

Article 19, a British human rights organization, reports that nearly half of 69 attacks on the press documented by activists in Mexico between January and March this year have been linked to public officials.

The possibility that individuals will be prosecuted for making threats using social media is “very small,” said Pilar Tavera of the pro-democracy group Propuesta Civica.

The majority of threats made to female journalists are now made on Facebook, Twitter or email, with Facebook being the most favored method, said Faviola Gonzalez of the watchdog group CIMAC, which works to protect female journalists’ human rights in Mexico.

Gonzalez has been monitoring social media threats to women journalists in Mexico since 2000 and says attacks against them increased by 2,200 percent between 2002 and 2013, with 13 female journalists killed between 2002 and 2015.

Threats over social media are often committed by individuals who create accounts on Facebook or Twitter “solely for the purpose of attacking journalists,” she said.

 “We started to see an increase in 2010 and it became very clear in 2013,” Gonzalez said, adding that Facebook makes it easier to locate and attack journalists.

Gonzalez claimed that public prosecutors don’t take social media threats seriously, investigating them is “not a priority,” and an environment of corruption and impunity in Mexico lies at the root of the problem.

Article 19 said in a report earlier this month that “any effort” by Mexican authorities “to investigate attacks online is normally fruitless.”

Of 69 cases reported from January to March, “[p]ublic officials were pinpointed as the alleged perpetrators in 33 cases,” the report found.

Article 19 told Telesur earlier this month that at least seven journalist were murdered in Mexico in 2015 and four have been killed so far this year.

According to Mariclaire Acosta, the Mexico Project Director for Washington-based Freedom House, the Mexican government “has no interest” in pursuing digital threats to journalists.

And its lack of response to the threats isn’t because it doesn’t have the power to monitor what’s going on, she charged.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reform of the country’s telecommunications law signed in 2014 “gave the government expanded powers of surveillance without judicial oversight,” according to a 2016 Freedom House study that concluded there is no freedom of the press in Mexico.

“Under the law’s provisions, the government may require internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile providers to store user data for at least two years, and to provide detailed communication records to security agencies (including police, intelligence, and military agencies) without a judicial warrant,” it found.

“Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists and media workers,” the report concluded.

Acosta said many Mexican journalists don’t have adequate knowledge of how to safely use social media, and make the mistake of mixing personal with professional information on social media platforms.

Ninety percent of 102 journalists in Mexico surveyed by Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists for a 2013 report said they use social media, and more than 35 percent reporting they use Twitter for professional reasons.

Nearly 70 percent of the journalists surveyed reported being threatened or attacked “because of their work,” and more than 90 percent said they knew of colleagues who had been attacked.

“One serious problem is that 50 percent of the survey participants say they mix personal and professional information on Twitter and Facebook,” the report said.

“Combining personal and professional information is a dangerous practice because it can provide an opening into the journalist or blogger’s personal life and activities.”

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