Organized crime and certain corrupt government officials make Mexico a hazardous place for journalists. Still, master’s students Alex Cisneros and Alena Pashnova don’t think the lack of freedom of speech would be one of the country’s biggest problems.
When asked to describe the freedom of speech in his home country Mexico, Alex Cisneros laughed.
”There is no such thing”, he said. ”I mean, you can say almost anything in the media, there is no censorship, but you will have to take the repercussions into account and deal with them.”
In Mexico, the government and the drug cartels are the prominent figures, who control most of the public speech. There are not many journalists who have the courage to go against them since they are at risk to be misrepresented by the former, or kidnapped by the latter.
”Many newspapers speculate things but they rarely make accusations”, Cisneros, who studies in the Development and International Cooperation Master’s program at the University of Jyväskylä, said.
Alena Pashnova, Cisneros’ wife and classmate agrees. She is originally from Russia but has lived in Mexico for five years.
”The situation in Mexico resembles the current situation in Russia a lot”, she said.
According to Journalists without borders, Mexico was the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for journalists in 2014. The country ranks in place 148 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Freedom of the Press Index with three murdered journalists in total.
The number may sound small but it exposes a country where murders, kidnappings and death threats go almost entirely unpunished. A statistic released in February 2015 by the Mexico’s attorney general’s office shows that 103 journalists have died since 2000 and 25 more are still missing.
One of the most famous cases illuminating the problems that Mexico has with freedom of expression was the murder of photojournalist Ruben Espinosa in July 2015. Espinosa had previously worked as a freelance journalist in the state of Veracruz and he was a known critic of the governor Javier Duarte.
He had reported receiving threats earlier in the year and finally fled to Mexico City believing the city’s bustle would shield him from the threats against his life. He was shot in the head execution-style alongside four women in a suburban apartment on July 31st.
The official investigation overlooked the fact that Espinosa was a photojournalist. They interviewed governor Duarte who didn’t admit to having any connections to the case and took the victim’s role himself. He concluded his public statement with ”The truth will set us free.”
In Espinosa’s case, some of the evidence was discovered by journalists, and afterwards discredited by government officials. Cisneros said that in Mexico, freedom of speech is a question of whose freedom wins.
”Freedom of expression in itself doesn’t matter since not all opinions are recognized”, he said.
”Many times the legitimacy of your claim is taken away by making you look bad. Someone might say that a journalist’s claim is false since they are a part of a gang”, Cisneros described.
Cisneros mentions the case of Carmen Aristegui. Aristegui, a renowned Mexican journalist, uncovered a corruption case a year ago. The Mexican president’s wife had contracted a company to build a luxury mansion and it later came to light that the same company had received lucrative business deals from the mexican government. Aristegui ended up being fired from her radio station in a different case last spring. Her firing was backed by the president’s office.
Cisneros and Pashnova think that freedom of speech is a value forced upon certain countries by Western nations.
”We have so many bigger problems in my home country that freedom of speech isn’t really at the top of our priorities list”, Cisneros said. ”The countries fighting for freedom of speech are those who have it already. They demand us to fix our situation and then criticize us when we fail.”
Instead of only demanding freedom of speech, the couple proposes that other countries could try to see the other values appreciated in Mexico.
”We value honesty above all else”, he said.