On 16 May, Mexican journalist Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos was shot dead outside of a restaurant in Cajeme, a town in the northern state of Sonora. Killed alongside him, according to Excélsior, were two police bodyguards appointed in response to frequent threats. Martín Mendoza, a crime reporter at El Tiempo de Medios Obson, a newspaper founded by Armenta, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the threats had specifically come from gangs in Ciudad Obregón for their frequent reporting on crime in Sonora. He stated that he had “no doubt” Armenta was killed for this reporting. Guadalupe Orduño, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office of the state of Sonora, told the CPJ that the attorney general had already opened a formal investigation into Armenta’s death and would seek federal assistance should they find that he was targeted specifically for his work as a journalist.
Jan-Albert Hootsen, the CPJ’s Mexico representative, pointed to Armenta’s murder as resonant of “Mexican authorities’ inability to protect journalists from deadly violence.” Rafael Caro Franco, president of the National Forum of Journalists and Communicators, highlighted the exasperation of the current climate around journalism in Mexico, stating that “we’re dealing with one more journalist who is killed in broad daylight and in a rising atmosphere of violence.” Mendoza specifically emphasized that, in this particular climate, reporting on violence increases the risk of becoming an object of that violence.
While the Mexican government has attempted to provide relief through federal protection programs, they do not appear to be curbing this form of targeted violence. According to Aristegui, Armenta and several of his employees were enrolled in a program coordinated by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists after a hand grenade was thrown at their office. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, despite promising to decrease violence in the country through his comparatively softer security strategy, has so far failed to do so since taking office in December 2018. He himself has lambasted journalists as untrustworthy and fifí – “elitist” or “bourgeois” – and has frequently criticized the press for not being “objective” or “professional” in their reporting on him in comparison to his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto.
According to Reporter Without Borders, Armenta is the third reporter to be killed in Mexico this year. In March, Maria Elena Ferral Hernández was gunned down in Veracruz after leaving her lawyer’s office. Like Armenta, she had been protected under the Veracruz State Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists, but had her protection withdrawn without reassessment of her safety. Last month, Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez disappeared in the state of Guerrero. A week after his disappearance was reported, testing confirmed that recovered body parts matched Álvarez’s DNA and the state prosecutor’s office ruled his death a homicide. At least 10 reporters were murdered in Mexico last year, with over 140 killed since 2000, making it the deadliest country in the Americas for journalists.
With his remarks, AMLO is undoubtedly adding to the already-unfriendly atmosphere toward journalism in Mexico and, more generally, in the whole Western Hemisphere. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has frequently claimed journalists are lying about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic; Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has claimed that reporters are actively working against him; and American President Donald Trump, perhaps the most famous in this list, once called the press the “enemies of the people.” With these attitudes toward journalism becoming more common among world leaders, and with instances like Armenta’s murder only increasing in frequency, it is clear that the world is becoming less safe for journalists. It is vital that world powers – particularly in the Americas – take the initiative to encourage and advocate for a global free press. It is not enough to simply allow one to operate and function in one’s home country; leaders must also condemn these attacks on the institution of journalism if it is to survive the current wave of democratic backsliding throughout the world.
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