Teresa Montaño and Reyna Ramírez

Defense of freedom of expression

Teresa Montaño’s story is similar to that of other journalists in Mexico. An investigative journalist, for years she has endured threats and extortion, especially from the local authorities in the state where she works, the State of Mexico. The situation came to a head just over a year ago, when she was kidnapped and received death threats. During the time she was held, the perpetrators stole money and looted her work equipment. She admits that, although she has not stopped working as a journalist, she lives in fear. Her greatest fear is that they will return to her home. He is also afraid of arbitrary arrests, which he says have increased in the area. She has worked on several cases of fabrication of guilt and knows how the machinery of finger-pointing works In 30 years in the profession, Teresa Montaño has suffered all kinds of coercion, from the most subtle to the most dangerous. The journalist has made her career in the State of Mexico, where Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) was governor before becoming president. The State of Mexico is one of the most corrupt in the country, according to official statistics. After being fired from Heraldo de México – she had previously worked for El Universal, El Financiero, Milenio and Notimex – for uncovering the newspaper’s links to luxury car networks, she now works as a contributor to Proceso magazine.

Reyna Haydee Ramírez is originally from Hermosillo and studied journalism at the University of Sonora. Before finishing her degree, she started working as a reporter at El Imparcial. She then spent twenty years at Reforma as a correspondent for the northwest. In 2017 she started working as a freelance journalist and has been working there ever since. Reyna Haydee Ramírez is part of the Alianza de Periodistas de a Pie, which brings together fifteen independent media across the country. Throughout her career as a journalist, Reyna Haydee Ramirez has been attacked and harassed on several occasions. Most recently, following an intervention she made in one of López Obrador’s speeches, which she was publicly pointed out. Investigating, naming cases of corruption and cross-examination has led to unprecedented harassment on social media and a ban on entering the Palacio de la Prensa for some time.

Mexico, a deadly country for journalists

Freedom of expression and the right to information have been under threat in Mexico for years. The country is experiencing extreme violence against journalists and for years the press has been cornered in a climate of threats, kidnappings, extortion and murders. As well as posing a danger to those who work in the profession, the effects of this situation on Mexican society and democracy are devastating. According to Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in which to work as a journalists

The fear of Mexican journalists to publish and investigate because of attacks and threats leads to a situation of imposed self-censorship and has and will have, in the future, devastating psychosocial consequences for the Mexican population and their perception of reality. The legitimisation of narco-violence and state forces, the dehumanisation of victims and aggressors, and the normality and routine of becoming accustomed to extreme violence have been taking their toll on Mexican society for decades.

The situation is not new. From 2007 to 2010, violence in Mexico increased by 260%, as reported at the time by Human Rights Watch (HRW). At that time, the offensive of Felipe Calderón – Mexico’s president from 2006 to 2012 – and his particular fight against drugs plunged the country into a spiral of violence and attacks on fundamental human rights. One of the most violated sectors was the press. Censorship, threats, murders, assaults, attacks, defamation, intimidation and torture of journalists became routine in the country.

With the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), marked by the Ayotzinapa massacre, the situation did not improve for the Mexican press: 48 journalists were murdered during Felipe Calderón’s term in office, and 47 during Peña Nieto’s term in office.

Now, under Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), journalists continue to deal with harassment, threats and assassinations. So far, AMLO’s mandate has left a trail of 34 journalists dead. 2022 is proving to be a lethal year for the press in the Latin American country: so far this year1 , 9 journalists have been murdered in the country, highlights the organisation Article 19. In its report“Denial“,it highlights that both the president and other members of his cabinet systematically attack the press and that “we observe the trends associated with the 644 aggressions against the press registered in 2021, that is to say, one every 14 hours. With the data recorded in 2021, during the current mandate of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 1,945 attacks have already been committed against the press, which represents 85% more than the first three years of the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (…) We conclude that violence against the press is the result of an absent government, which, like those of the past, has been unable to prevent violence, to guarantee measures of non-repetition, to investigate crimes against freedom of expression, to repair the damage. On the contrary, the press is directly attacked through stigmatisation and harassment”.

For its part, Reporters Without Borders says: “President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in power since 2018, has not yet undertaken the reforms needed to curb the spiral of violence against the press (…) President López Obrador and other leading figures in the state have adopted a rhetoric that is as violent as it is stigmatising against journalists, whom they regularly accuse of promoting the opposition”.

It is important to highlight the origin of this violence against journalists: “(…) Mexican state authorities were linked to at least 274 attacks (42.55%), compared to 21.31% committed by private individuals, followed by political parties (9.18%) and organised crime (6.53%). In other words, the Mexican authorities are directly linked to 2 out of 5 attacks against the press“, Article 19 states.

Despite complaints from both national and international associations, media and journalists, crimes against freedom of expression in Mexico go largely unpunished. According to Human Rights Watch, “(…) Of the 105 investigations into the murders of journalists carried out by the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) since its creation in 2010, only six have resulted in convictions for murder”.

Interview with Teresa Montaño and Reyna Ramírez

More journalists have been killed in the first six months of 2022 than in the whole of 2021, why do you think this is?

Teresa Montaño: It is true that it has increased, but I don’t consider this to be a repressive government. There is freedom of expression, but there has been an increase in violence in the states on the part of state and municipal governments. I think the collusion between organised crime and local authorities has grown. I cover local stories, not so much federal ones, and all the aggressions I have suffered have not come from López Obrador, but from local governments.

Reyna Ramírez: The licence to attack journalists has been growing in recent years and is largely due to the impunity that continues to be a reality. There is no investigation. Look at the case of Lourdes Maldonado: she went to a conference of the president and asked for help; unfortunately, she was also murdered. Now the main fight is to combat impunity. What is happening this year? It should be investigated. It is worrying because you feel that it could touch you at any moment. These attacks can be felt in the atmosphere. The debate about violence against the press in Mexico is precisely this: who and what should be done to stop it.

In his mornings, López Obrador singles out and stigmatises the press.

T.M: López Obrador is going against the big media monopolies and journalists who are stars of the corporate media. Beyond the president’s verbiage, it is those of us in the states and provinces who suffer. Censorship almost always comes from the state governments of the State of Mexico and organised crime. The latter controls very large territories in Mexico and that is why there are areas that are silenced, because organised crime has imposed its law and keeps the media silenced.

R.R.: The State has always been the main aggressor of journalists in Mexico. When it is organised crime that points the finger, it is very notorious; not so much when the State does it. Federal Government figures show that in 70% of the cases of attacks on journalists, some official, politician or public figure is involved. This was the case of Miroslava Breach. In all cases there is an official tinge.

[A Reyna Ramírez] She has had problems getting into the mornings.

Yes, in 2021-2022 they wouldn’t let me in. They cancelled my press card and I had no access to the National Palace.

Impunity is rampant.

T.M.: Impunity is almost total. It is only recently that the government has begun to make progress on the progress of investigations into the cases of the murder of journalists. The other attacks almost all go unpunished. Right now there are colleagues who have disappeared. Of the murders, only in three cases has there been some progress, but in general this is not the case. My case remains unpunished. They don’t even bother to give me any progress. Nothing. A state mechanism for the protection of journalists has just been created, but my case is not taken into account, I continue to be invisible and I don’t even appear in the statistics. It is revictimisation. Taula Per Mèxic and CIMAC made a request for my case to be brought to the federal government. Because the local government will not investigate it.

And the police can’t be counted on either?

T.M: The police are used as another repressive group. It is not a police force that is dedicated to protecting citizens. It is the repressive arm of the powers that be, especially the local powers. That scares me. The panorama is not simple.

[A Teresa Montaño] [To Teresa Montaño] How are you, one year after the kidnapping?

I’m a bit better, but I haven’t fully recovered. I suffer from panic attacks in the mornings. The kidnapping also brought me other things: my colleagues started to isolate and reject me.

[A Teresa Montaño] [To Teresa Montaño] How can that be?

When they attack you, it is as if they are casting suspicion on you. In Mexico there is a long tradition of re-victimisation of victims. I have suffered isolation, which has been very painful, and I have not found support from colleagues, quite the opposite. I was removed from the WhatsApp groups at work and since then I have had to deal with rejection.

[A Teresa Montaño] [To Teresa Montaño] Maybe they are afraid.

No, it has to do with the smear campaign against me; it’s not the first one I’ve suffered. Recently they launched one because I was fired from the Heraldo de México for an investigation I did. I inadvertently discovered that the government of the state of Mexico and my newspaper had a luxury car rental business worth 2 billion pesos. I realised that reporters covering the governor were being transported in luxury cars. I turned to the transparency mechanisms and there were the contracts. I barely managed to do a story. I was fired soon after. I was plunged into a great depression. From then on it has been very difficult. I have barely had any income and my situation has been very precarious. I have a degree in journalism and I can teach, but they won’t give me a job in the local universities, because they are also controlled. At the beginning of the year I was selling coffee and cakes on the street.

[A Teresa Montaño] [To Teresa Montaño] Did you always want to do investigative journalism?

I never set out to do it, but unintentionally, I was oriented towards research. In my notes I always tried to look for other angles or to give additional data. It seems natural to me that a journalist should investigate. I never set out to do it, I did what I thought was right: investigate the powers that be. Then I began to specialise with various courses. It’s true that most journalism nowadays is about statements, but I break out of the mould.

What drives them to continue, not to give up?

T.M: I have thought about it many times. It is my way of contributing to the world in order to improve it. I also think it is my talent: I am a good investigator and I think my voice is necessary, because I have been one of the journalists who has investigated corruption the most. And because I want to improve the world.

R.R: My first job was so exhausting that I thought about not continuing. I come from the bottom and I have always been very questioned. I come from a region and a marginalised sector where you see all the possible injustices It’s good to know that you are at the bottom because it allows you to ask different questions, but on the third day of working I was already on a wall crying and thinking about quitting because what surrounds journalism was not for me. Those forms were not for me. I don’t know about protocol or public relations. I have always been very wild, but I have always respected my work.

[A Reyna Ramírez] [To Reyna Ramírez] Did you hope that the situation would change with the López Obrador government?

R.R: I had slight hopes, yes. I suffered under Calderón and Peña Nieto. Before, they tried to buy you and if you didn’t succumb, they persecuted you in every possible way. Four years into López Obrador’s six-year term, it is complicated because there is a way of working that is deeply rooted in Mexico, involving the media, the authorities, the presidency, the states, governors, mayors’ offices, etc. They want to control the discourse and make sure you don’t leave the fold. I have been critical, that’s where my case comes from. The situation has eased somewhat, but censorship continues, there are attacks from the presidency that many minimise which are not like with Calderón and Peña Nieto? That’s right, but no matter how minimal they are, they are still censorship and attacks.

[A Reyna Ramírez] [To Reyna Ramírez] You have suffered a lot of harassment on social media lately.

Now it’s the networks, but before that I was discredited by government-friendly media. I have been subjected to a lifetime of harassment: beatings, exile, physical attacks, etc. For the mere fact of making power uncomfortable. Every time I have been harassed, I have wanted to resign. After the second to last attack, as an independent, I tried to do something else and I started selling stuffed chilli peppers. I had 30 clients and I thought I would do well because I like to cook. I ended the day with my fingers sore and I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t give up journalism, and it’s not that I’m brave. I have conviction and love for it, that’s why I take risks. I have courage to the extent that a citizen raises his voice to denounce a situation.

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