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Journalist shares research on press safety in Mexico

| Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Katherine Corcoran, a Kellogg Institute for International Studies Hewlett fellow for public policy, spoke at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on Tuesday about why an increasing number of journalists are being murdered in Mexico, even as the country is becoming more democratic.

Mexico is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, Corcoran said — she knows this firsthand. Corcoran worked in the Associated Press’ Mexico bureau as an enterprise editor overseeing features and special investigations, and then as its bureau chief. She interacted with other journalists who were later killed, allegedly for doing their jobs, she said.

“Mexico is not a country at war,” Corcoran said. “The shocking thing to me was that so many journalists were being killed in a democracy.”

After a year researching this issue as a Kellogg fellow, Corcoran concluded that three factors have contributed to the high number of journalist murders in recent years: impunity, weak government institutions and the relationship between drug cartels and political figures.

Corcoran noted that government statistics say 99.6 percent of aggressions against journalists (i.e. equipment seizure, threats, assaults, murders) go unprosecuted.

“Impunity is a huge problem,” Corcoran said. “So the reason you kill a journalist in Mexico is because you can.”

Impunity is the result of weak government institutions, she said.

“Everyone says Mexico is a democracy, but anybody who really knows Mexico will say that Mexico never had a full transition to a democracy,“ Corcoran said. “What people there now call it is an electoral plurality — but the institutions never did the full transformation and they remain very weak.”

Mexico’s transition to democracy has also brought a redistribution of power to state and local governments, Corcoran commented, which has encouraged more relationships between drug cartels and political figures. Sometimes journalists are killed by drug cartels for the cartels’ own reasons, but Corcoran said most of the time journalists are killed by cartel members on behalf of political officials. However, those cases are also the most difficult to prove.

“The closer the case is to the government, the less [of a] chance [there is] that it will be investigated, and the more [of a] chance [there is] that they will try to blame narcos or some other entity for killing the journalist,” Corcoran said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website, 44 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1994 in cases in which there was a confirmed motive tied to the journalist’s work and an additional 53 have been killed without a confirmed motive.

“People say, ‘Why are all these journalists being killed in Mexico every year?’ And everybody says it’s the narcos,” Corcoran said.

However, she said, in reality the highest number of aggressions against journalists are the work of public officials or some other representative of the government.

Corcoran said between 2009 and 2017, 273 of 2,765 total aggressions were committed by organized crime, but 1,352 were committed by public officials. She also noted that according to the Mexican government’s own statistics, 42% of aggressions — not just murders — against journalists were committed by public officials.

Overall, aggression against journalists has been increasing every year since 2009, she said, but there are small groups of journalists who are beginning to fight back.

“There was no investigative reporting of any merit before in Mexico,” Corcoran said.

Recently, however, she said a small group of reporters has begun to investigate corruption in Mexico while training younger journalists to do so as well.

“Even though it’s a small movement, it is a movement,” Corcoran said.

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About Micaela Powers

Micaela Powers is a senior majoring in Film, Television, and Theatre and Political Science.

Contact Micaela