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World Mexico's Journalists Fear Hostile Turn Under President

17:25  07 december  2019
17:25  07 december  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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Journalists say President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’ s harsh criticism of the news media is leading to an increase in harassment and hostility from Rather, he’ s an affable 28-year-old television reporter from local broadcaster TV Azteca who infuriated government supporters by asking President

Mexico ’ s Journalists Fear Hostile Turn Under President : Reporters say López Obrador’s open criticism of the press is encouraging violence against them. 151 · 38 comments. Extinción de Dominio.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd© Pedro Pardo/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

MEXICO CITY—Irving Pineda has received hundreds of threats since Mexican security forces arrested and then released the son of jailed drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán after an attack by cartel forces in October.

He isn’t a special-operations officer, nor a drug-cartel hitman. Rather, he’s an affable 28-year-old television reporter from local broadcaster TV Azteca who infuriated government supporters by asking President Andrés Manuel López Obrador a simple question during the president’s morning news conference a few days later: Did his administration negotiate the release of El Chapo’s son with Sinaloa cartel members?

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Mexico ' s Journalists Fear Hostile Turn Under President . Journalists say President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s harsh criticism of the news media is leading [ ]

Mexico ' s Journalists Fear Hostile Turn Under President . Journalists say President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s harsh criticism of the news media is leading [ ]

The inquiry angered the president, who questioned why a reporter was examining his decision-making and criticized media coverage of the security forces’ operation. Almost immediately, Mr. Pineda received death threats via social media from people outraged by his question, and a month later is still getting them daily. On Sunday, he was harassed by a group of López Obrador supporters while covering a rally in downtown Mexico City to commemorate the president’s first year in power.

“This is a red flag that the Mexican government must address, because the threats against journalists who cover the president’s news conferences are now moving from social media to the streets,” Mr. Pineda said in an interview.

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Mexico ' s Journalists Fear Hostile Turn Under President . Journalists say President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s harsh criticism of the news media is leading [ ]

Mexico ' s Journalists Fear Hostile Turn Under President . Journalists say President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s harsh criticism of the news media is leading [ ]

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Mr. López Obrador condemned the intimidation of Mr. Pineda. “No one should be assaulted. You are doing your job and that should not happen,” he said Monday.

Mexico has long been unsafe for reporters, but this year it became the world’s most lethal, overtaking Afghanistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom advocacy group. A majority of the attacks against journalists are believed to come from organized crime, activists say, with many of them never solved.

Increasingly, journalists are the target of anger from the president’s supporters. Unlike previous presidents, he holds a daily news conference and makes himself available to the press in a way that his predecessors didn’t. Broadcast live on radio, television and the internet to millions of his supporters, Mr. López Obrador calls reporters his adversaries—as well as nobodies, conservatives, know-it-alls, posh press and hypocrites. Many reporters from leading media outlets no longer give their name and affiliation when they ask questions at his daily briefings because of security concerns.

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Journalists say Mr. López Obrador’s hostile rhetoric is encouraging violence against them. Eleven have been killed since he took office in late 2018, continuing a trend from previous presidencies in Mexico. More than 150 Mexican reporters have received threats or have been attacked because of their work during the first half of this year, according to Article 19, another press freedom group.

Mr. López Obrador says his administration shuns censorship and violence against reporters. “Journalists are key for the construction of a democratic state,” a spokesman for Mr. López Obrador said.

Despite the president’s complaints about unfavorable press coverage, Mexico’s biggest media outlets are known for their lack of independence and generally soft line toward those in power. This is partly a legacy of the past, when the press was muzzled during the country’s long period of a single party state from 1929 to 2000. Competition in the television market was curbed because the government protected monopolies in exchange for favorable news coverage. News anchors and journalists who gained attention for their critical views of presidents were often pushed aside.

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But hostility and harassment of journalists are on the rise. Reporter Jannet López, who covers the president for local newspaper Milenio, received threatening messages after she asked the president about corruption allegations linked to social programs early this year, among other things. The harassment has intensified in recent weeks with sexual and death threats on Twitter. One included a photo of a corpse wrapped with plastic bags.

“We are now facing increased risks as the president makes a distinction between good and bad media,” she said. The good media are the ones that give the president softball questions, she added.

The Signa Lab at ITESO University in Guadalajara, which monitors social-media activity, tracked more than 24,000 tweets attacking Mexican reporters over the course of two days in October with hashtags like #ProstitutedPress or #PrensaSicaria, which stands for Hitman Press. The term “sicario” is especially laden in Mexico, where drug-related violence has killed more than 250,000 people since 2006.

“In a country where being a journalist represents a danger of death, the press is attacked and ridiculed from the highest platform,” says Rossana Reguillo, head of Signa Lab.

Mexico currently ranks near the bottom, 144th out of 180 countries, in perceived levels of press freedom, slightly above Venezuela and Russia, which rank 148 and 149 respectively, according to Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

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Media companies today are more vulnerable because of lower advertising revenue, which is fueling self-censorship, industry executives, editors and journalists say. Many of these companies rely on government advertising to survive. Mexico City, for instance, has 31 daily newspapers, many of which wouldn’t exist without public money, according to a count by Andrew Paxman, a historian for CIDE University in Aguascalientes.

But as part of a government austerity drive, Mr. López Obrador has cut the budget for federal government advertising by half to about $240 million this year, and another 40% cut is planned for 2020. That has prompted many newspapers and other media outlets to lay off journalists and slash salaries.

With government advertising drying up, some media companies are shaking up coverage and trying harder not to antagonize the president, media executives and senior editors say. Privately, they say they worry the government could go a step further and withdraw operating licenses for radio and television.

“Most media companies are now trying to look good with the powerful, because that is what they know how to do,” said Sergio Aguayo, a political analyst.

Broadcaster Grupo Radio Centro, which recently launched a TV station in Mexico City, replaced its top commentators and news anchors with a new team of journalists known for being less critical of Mr. López Obrador.

“We are facing a tremendous case of self-censorship,” said Jesús Martín Mendoza, a radio news anchor who was recently fired by Radio Centro. “Fearing reprisals or a freeze in government advertising, the media decide to remove certain people.”

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Sergio Sarmiento, one of Mexico’s top political commentators and a known advocate for free-market economics, was also pushed out by Radio Centro in July. “The owners made the decision because they wanted more ‘progressive’ journalists,” he wrote on Twitter in October.

Juan Aguirre, Radio Centro’s chief executive, said the changes are part of a market strategy to develop new shows with journalists who previously faced censorship or didn’t have the chance to work in radio or television.

Grupo Televisa, Mexico’s dominant television broadcaster and the top recipient of government advertising, in August removed renowned journalist Carlos Loret at the company’s top morning TV news show.

Mr. Loret, who has clashed with Mr. López Obrador for years, left days before he was to broadcast a critical investigation into properties and businesses linked to Manuel Bartlett, a key ally of the Mexican president who now runs the state electricity utility.

People familiar with the situation say Mr. Loret was forced to leave because of his reporting and critical stance toward Mr. López Obrador.

A company spokesman said his departure wasn’t related to editorial issues. Mr. Loret still heads the midday newscast at W Radio, a station co-owned by the company, the spokesman added. Mr. Loret was able to release his investigation into the president’s ally on his radio program.

Mr. López Obrador denied any involvement in Mr. Loret’s departure or the Radio Centro shuffle.

Write to Santiago Pérez at santiago.perez@wsj.com

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