The Mexican senate approved constitutional changes on Tuesday that make any attack on a journalist and media workers a federal crime. Any crime carried out against these types of professionals will be investigated by the central government’s attorney general.
In order for these changes to take effect, they must also be approved by a minimum of 17 Mexican state legislatures. After their consent, the reformation must be signed by the president.
The push for such changes stems from the grim reality that the majority of attacks on Mexican journalists are often neglected; many attacks are not investigated and those that are rarely lead to any court action.
According to Mexico’s national human rights commission, 74 people were murdered from 2000 to 2011 while the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says the total for the period was 51. The attacks have been associated with Mexico’s surge in drug violence over the past 5 1/2 years.
The Committee to Protect Journalists stated in a 2010 report that “violence against the press has swept the nation and destroyed Mexicans’ right to freedom of expression. The national crisis demands a full-scale federal response.” Perhaps this legislation is the response that they have been waiting for. CPJ has found Mexico the ninth most dangerous for journalists to operate: “In case after case, CPJ has found negligent work by state prosecutors and police. Authorities have used unlawful methods, including coercion of witnesses and fabrication of evidence, on several occasions. Complicity between police and criminals is so common that many people interviewed by CPJ see the justice system as being controlled by the criminals.”
The federalization of crimes that protect the freedom of expression sends an important message that national leaders are taking the situation seriously. Mexico’s track record for allowing the press and other media to be controlled by cartels and other criminals has diminished its status as a reliable global partner.
The other advantage in federalizing these crimes is that federal employees have more access to resources than regular police; this makes them more effective in protecting media representatives. Federal employees are also subject to greater scrutiny which makes them less likely to take bribes or falsify information.