Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

International organizations view Mexican initiative #AgendaDePeriodistas with optimism



Almost a decade ago, Brazilian journalist Marcelo Moreira traveled to Mexico for the first time to participate in a working group to study the situation of journalists in that country, considered then and now the most dangerous place to practice journalism in Latin America.

According to Moreira, the diagnosis was not good at the time. The Mexican journalists were very divided and the circumstances did not exist to join forces in order to defend their profession.

Moreira was part of the group that founded the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI, for its acronym in Portuguese) in 2002 with the aim of protecting and defending the rights of journalists following the assassination of Brazilian journalist Tim Lopes of Rede Globo.

The current situation in Mexico is similar to that of Brazil 15 years ago: after the murder of journalist Javier Valdez in May 2017, and the deaths of other colleagues, Mexican journalists are working toward creating an organization to help protect themselves and defend their rights as humans and workers.

“For almost ten years there was no hope, simply because the Mexican journalists themselves did not think of organizing,” Moreira told the Knight Center. “But this time was different.”

Moreira was one of the invited guests at the symposium on Models of Journalists Organizations, organized on Aug. 10 by the #AgendaDePeriodistas initiative in Mexico City where representatives of organizations in Latin America and other parts of the world shared their best practices, advice and organizational strategies.

The invited panelists agreed that the problem of violence against journalists that Mexico is facing has very particular difficulties compared to those of other countries. However, they were also optimistic about what #AgendaDePeriodistas has managed to do in just a few months after its creation.

“I really think what Mexico is experiencing now is an historic moment. As it has been the country where journalists are killed most frequently in the world, it has always been very difficult for Mexican journalists to organize as a group to fight impunity,” Moreira said.

“Mexico is one of the countries where journalists most suffer from self-censorship. The fear and certainty that the crimes will not be cleared up cause them to stop doing the stories.”

According to other guests, the fact that the #AgendaDePeriodistas has reached out to journalists from the interior of the country is one of the greatest achievements of the initiative, since these journalists are most affected by the violence, given their poor working conditions.

"I have the impression that in many media in the interior of Mexico, the owners and directors are the accomplices of the murder of journalists," Carlos Dada of El Salvador's digital newspaper El Faro said at the symposium. "They are accomplices by sending them to war without any protection, for not reacting when they touch their people and leaving them abandoned. These stories of complicity of the media directors are not being told.”

Guillermo Osorno, convener of the AgendaDePeriodistas, said the plan for the initiative would be formed after this symposium. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Representatives of international organizations advised #AgendaDePeriodistas to prioritize the goals that should be realized in the short term, like finding a way to put a definitive end to violence against journalists. They also suggested following up on long-term goals that seem to be less possible, such as making the stories of impunity visible through journalistic work and making the political cost of attacks on journalists greater in the eyes of the international community.

"Since they are trying the impossible, and they have already done something that seemed impossible, such as bringing together 400 journalists, [creating] the journalistic agenda, looking at issues clearly, it is worth continuing to try a couple of impossible moves," said Maria Teresa Ronderos, director of the Program on Independent Journalism from Open Society Foundations, who, among other things, suggested that Mexican journalists should look for a way to "create an ethical community that protects itself and raises the cost of attacks on journalism."

Fernando Ramírez, director of the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) of Colombia, compared the protection mechanism for threatened journalists created by the Government of Mexico in 2012 with the one that was formed in Colombia in the year 2000, and affirmed that personal security and armored cars are an immediate solution, but they do not get to the root of the problem.

"If you have an armored car, it's going to be harder for the bullet to enter, sure. But the one who wants to kill you looks for a way to kill you," Ramírez said. "What we have to create is that there is a feeling that there is freedom of the press, that people can say what they want to say without problems and that if you mess it up, there are judges or other mechanisms to attack you. 'Sue me, do not kill me. Ask me for rectification, but do not kill me.'”

Adriana León, a representative of the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Peru, shared how her organization successfully tested the creation of temporary shelters and support for threatened journalists as a way to provide protection to their colleagues in danger.

León said IPYS works closely with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and with organizations such as The Rory Peck Trust to count on immediate funding to support journalists whose lives are in danger.

"For seven years, IPYS worked in the protection of journalists, in protection mechanisms, to remove them from the complicated zones. In 2000, when the dictatorship (of Alberto Fujimori) fell, Peru became a host country for journalists in danger in temporary shelters,” León said during her presentation.

The symposium was broadcast live on YouTube. (Screenshot)

For the representatives of these organizations, sharing their experiences with their Mexican colleagues is important so that they take their entities as inspiration and see that the goals that are proposed are possible.

“Each country has different realities, but understanding the evil for society when a journalist is killed is the same, whether in Mexico, Brazil or anywhere in the world,” Marcelo Moreira said. “I think a new strong group is being born in Mexico and I was very proud to have witnessed and been part of this story.”

In the final part of that event, the #AgendaDePeriodistas conveners presented the three preliminary objectives that they will take into account to define their agenda. The next step for the initiative will be to analyze both the suggestions of the representatives of international organizations and the proposals obtained from the working groups they held in June to set up their final work plan and determine the type of organization that they should create.

"Let's take a break and we'll sort the steps that follow," Guillermo Osorno, convener of the #AgendaDePeriodistas, told the Knight Center before the symposium. "The participants who were at the tables should identify the most important issues and decide which are the priority themes. And from there will be dissecting the best agenda and at the same time, based on the discussion today, two desirable models of organization will be presented and then we will make a decision."



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