The Risky Job of Covering Local Elections in Mexico

Mexican voters will go to the polls Sunday to elect candidates for thousands of local offices, and in a country where elections have a tradition of violence, journalists will be in the crosshairs.“We know that when there’s so much violence, journalists who cover these elections, they can become targets, too,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Mexico representative at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).In April, the U.S.-based rights group went so far as to publish a “journalists safety kit” just for the Mexico elections, citing harassment, online bullying and assassination. Five journalists were killed in 2020; one was shot and killed in May, and another survived a knife attack.Mexico emerged as Guadalupe Severo, the wife of slain journalist Julio Valdivia, is embraced during his wake inside their home in Tezonapa, Veracruz, Mexico, Sept. 10, 2020. Valdivia’s decapitated body was found five miles from Tezonapa a day earlier.The journalists had all been involved in investigating or working on reports of high-level official corruption, or government involvement in human rights abuses. Targets received text messages with personal and sexual taunts and kidnapping warnings, among other threats.More recently, on March 23, 2021, in the state of Baja California, investigative reporter Dianeth Perez Arreola received a letter from a special prosecutor for electoral crimes.The letter ordered her to remove online content with references to a female political candidate and warned Perez Arreola not to publish details about the candidate that “denigrate or degrade a woman.”’Absurd’ allegationsPerez Arreola had published a video alleging that the candidate used her position in the Sonora governor’s office to enrich herself. Perez Arreola faces arrest or fines if she refuses to comply with the letter, according to an account by CPJ.“The allegations are absurd, as none of the videos were about [the candidate’s] personal life, and none of them contained any content that would be degrading to her as a woman,” Perez Arreola said to CPJ.Given the gang violence and government corruption in Mexico, journalists often don’t know where threats are coming from. That makes it hard to take precautions.“Even if measures are taken to stay safe, they are an illusion. When someone is a clear target, there is no army to protect anyone,” said Aguilar Perez.Still, Hootsen said journalists can create their own mutual safety net.“When reporting on the election, try to check in with your colleagues. Try to make sure that people know where you are, what you’re doing, and make sure that you know who to call when you get into trouble,” Hootsen said.Despite the risks, Aguilar Perez takes solace in the belief that Mexicans still respect and respond to journalism that holds politicians accountable for their actions.“The only thing that still weighs on Mexican politics is the public claim of citizens,” he said. “In my case, the support of citizens and fellow media has been the most important factor.”

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