Less than a month ago, Mexican journalist Jorge Armenta was shot dead while walking out of a restaurant in his home state of Sonora. He was the nineteenth journalist killed since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December 2018.
Since 2000, 159 journalists have been killed in Mexico for their work, making the country one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world, on par with war zones like Syria and Afghanistan in terms of number of journalists killed according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
Overall violence and attacks on journalists in Mexico are on the increase. Last year, Mexican journalists reported 609 threats, attacks, or other forms of aggression—reportedly the highest yearly amount ever recorded.
In 2012, the government created the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which provides bodyguards, armored cars, and panic buttons, and assists journalists to temporarily relocate in response to serious threats. Five journalists have since been killed under the program’s protection. Four of them, including Jorge, were killed within the last two years alone.
The increase in killings of journalists, even those under government protection, demonstrates the Mexican government’s failure to protect journalists, in part due to understaffing and underfunding the protection program. According to a 2019 study by the Mexico Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the number of people under the program’s protection more than tripled from 2014 to 2019, while the program’s budget and staff remained roughly the same.
Lack of participation by high-level federal officials in leadership meetings and lack of coordination with state governments has also led to inadequate implementation of protection measures. Around 90% of crimes against journalists in Mexico currently go unpunished.
A free press is an essential part of a functioning democratic society, more so in a country like Mexico with such precarious institutions. The López Obrador administration should immediately take steps to strengthen Mexico’s protection mechanism for journalists. And it should adopt effective measures to reduce the rampant, unanswered violence against journalists, with judicial investigations to end habitual impunity, and abandon purely rhetorical commitments that, as we have shown, have little impact on Mexico’s deplorable record.