Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, at times constrained freedom of expression.
Freedom of Speech: Journalists could criticize the government and discuss matters of general interest with no restrictions. Politicians publicly discredited and criticized such journalists, however.
On July 16, more than 80 Baja California journalists signed a letter to the CNDH denouncing Governor Jamie Bonilla’s verbal attacks against the newspaper La Voz de la Frontera, newspaper Reforma correspondent Aline Corpus, the regional magazine Semanario Zeta, and its director Adela Navarro.
Sanjuana Martinez Montemayor, the director of NOTIMEX, the government’s news agency, ordered journalists to eliminate or not publish content about certain government institutions and officials, according to the newspaper Aristegui News, the digital media Signa Lab, and the NGO Article 19.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but often self-censored due to fear of reprisal. Journalists in Nogales, Sonora, said they were aware of unspoken red lines in covering organized crime and that crossing lines, such as mentioning the name of an alleged assailant, could result in personal harm.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subjected to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. High levels of impunity, including for killings or attacks on journalists, resulted in self-censorship and reduced freedom of expression and the press.
Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity, consistent with high levels of impunity for all crimes. The NGO Article 19 reported that as of December 2019, the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99 percent. According to Article 19 and media reporting, as of December, six journalists had been killed because of their reporting.
From January to June, Article 19 documented 406 attacks against journalists and media, a 45 percent increase from the same period in 2019. According to Article 19, between January and June, journalists reported 40 death threats, 91 cases of intimidation or harassment, and 47 physical attacks. Public officials carried out 199 of the recorded attacks, according to Article 19. The NGO recorded 68 attacks carried out by public officials against journalists and media outlets reporting on COVID-19.
Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office, secured 19 convictions for various related crimes out of 1,311 cases of attacks against journalists. In 2019, 43 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected in 7 percent of attacks against journalists, according to Article 19’s 2018 report. In March the Interior Ministry recognized government authorities perpetrated attacks against the press.
On August 20, Juan Nelcio Espinosa, an independent journalist in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, died while in police custody. Reports indicated he was detained with a colleague on charges of alleged violence against security forces. The Coahuila State Prosecutor General’s Office reported the journalist experienced breathing problems and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Espinosa’s family accused police of killing him and said police had previously threatened him.
Between 2012 and April 2020, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received more than 1,200 requests for protection for journalists and human rights defenders. As of June, 398 journalists were beneficiaries of Mechanism protection. Since 2018, seven journalists under Mechanism protection had been killed.
In early August, Pablo Morrugares, journalist and director of the digital news portal PM Noticias, which carried out investigations on criminal operations in Guerrero, was shot and killed by armed men in a restaurant in Iguala. He had received threats since 2015, and the state issued protective measures. The police officer assigned to guard him was also killed in the attack. Hours earlier he reported Tlacos, an organized crime group, was responsible for a recent spate of killings.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.
In 2018 Article 19 reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies. According to Article 19, no information was available concerning the criteria through which the government chooses media outlets for public advertising.
Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines ranging from five to 500 days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Colima, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and monetary fines. In July 2019 the state of Hidalgo abrogated the slander law. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.
In addition to criminal libel and defamation laws, civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to defamation, concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court removed the cap on fines for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines. In January a Mexico City court ordered academic Sergio Aguayo, a columnist of the daily newspaper Reforma, to pay a fine of $530,000 in moral damages to former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. On July 29, the Supreme Court agreed to analyze the case but as of October had not issued a ruling.
Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.
On August 22, a federal judge sentenced Juan Carlos “El Larry” Moreno Ochoa to 50 years in prison for the 2019 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption.
The threat against journalists by organized crime was particularly high in Guerrero. Journalists in Iguala, Guerrero, received messages through social networks, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, from unknown contacts, threatening them and their families, according to Article 19. Following the August 2 killing of Pablo Morrugares, the El Diario de Iguala newspaper published a note blaming organized crime and Governor Hector Astudillo Flores’ administration for violence against journalists and impunity. On August 4, attackers fired multiple shots at the building housing the printing facilities of El Diario de Iguala.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns about online manipulation tactics, high levels of violence against digital reporters, and investigations surrounding abusive surveillance practices. The report noted political partisans launched social media campaigns against journalists who criticized President Lopez Obrador’s daily livestreamed press conferences.
A trend on social media also saw public officials blocking critical journalists and media from following their social media accounts. In March 2019, however, the Supreme Court ordered the Prosecutor General of Veracruz to unblock and allow a journalist to follow his Twitter account.
Article 19 noted that according to Google Transparency reports between 2012 and June 2018, the executive and judiciary branches filed 111 requests to remove content from the web, including two instances in which the reason cited was “criticism of government.”
Digital media journalists covering stories such as crime, corruption, and human rights violations experienced physical violence and online abuse. Online discrimination, harassment, and threats were problems particularly for women journalists and politicians, as well as any individuals and organizations advocating for women’s rights.
NGOs alleged provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld the provisions, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access user metadata.
On May 12, Article 19 and ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara, published a report on attacks against journalists orchestrated by Sanjuana Martinez, director of NOTIMEX. Ten witnesses with direct knowledge of the NOTIMEX newsroom told Article 19 of the existence of a WhatsApp chat called “the Avengers N.” The chat was used by the agency’s executives–at the behest of Martinez–to order journalists to create fake Twitter accounts and post messages against voices critical of NOTIMEX leadership. Former NOTIMEX director of international news Manuel Ortiz said Martinez ordered him and his collaborators to attack prominent journalists who questioned the appointment of Martinez as the head of the state news agency. Article 19 noted the attacks were very serious, putting at risk the lives and careers of journalists.
Journalists who asked difficult questions of the president during the daily press conference received attacks via Twitter. Tweets disseminated their identities and their media outlets and also made veiled threats.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.