Violence & Impunity: Protecting Journalists in Colombia & Mexico

This post is also available in: Spanish

Violence against journalists is fortunately uncommon in many Latin American countries. But in some parts of the region—rural zones of Colombia and the north of Mexico, for example—it is of great concern.

The democratic governments of these countries have tried to address the terrible scourge of violence against journalists, and some progress has been made. In Colombia, for example, the number of slain journalists has gone down in recent years. Yet the killing of journalists in Mexico has escalated tragically over the past year, when at least ten journalists were killed, making it the most deadly country for journalists in the Americas.

Geographic regions that remain most dangerous for journalists are characterized by lawlessness, drug trafficking, smuggling, organized crime and guerilla conflict. Although these areas are dangerous for everyone, journalists are often targeted in retribution for their investigative work exposing criminal activities. In many cases, editors simply stop assigning staff to carry out investigative reporting because they know that government authorities are either unwilling or incapable of protecting journalists’ safety. Thus, many vital issues are potentially not investigated by journalists, such as human rights violations, paramilitary or guerilla violence, corruption, and
drug trafficking.

This cycle of intimidation and violence against journalists, an inadequate response from the judiciary, and widespread self-censorship by journalists and editors alike, undermines the role the media should be playing in a well-functioning democracy—and weakens democracy itself. The Inter-American Dialogue wanted to convene the key players on this set of issues—members of the media, judges, legislators, executive branch officials, and press freedom advocates—to analyze the situation, learn from successful protection strategies in place in Colombia, devise new approaches, and commit to taking action to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.

Toward that end, in 2008 the Dialogue convened two private conferences, one in Colombia and one in Mexico, designed to develop a greater sense of urgency about crimes against journalists; strengthen communication between the media and government officials charged with defending journalists; and  devise a set of recommendations regarding the investigation and prosecution of violence against journalists.

We would like to thank our local partner organizations for their constructive and valuable collaboration in this effort. They are, in Colombia, the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP), and in Mexico, the Press and Democracy Foundation (PRENDE), Article 19, and the Mexican International Affairs Council (COMEXI). We also want to thank the authors of the four background papers commissioned for this project: José C. Ugaz Sánchez-Moreno, Darío Ramírez, Eduardo A. Bertoni, and Sauro González Rodríguez. We are also indebted to Dialogue intern Ashley Kosiewicz for his careful editing and updating of the original Spanish version of this report, and to Dialogue program assistant, Daphne Morrison for her expert editing of the English translation.

We are grateful for the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which made this initiative possible. Download the full report below.