Eight years ago, investigative journalist Regina Martínez was found beaten and dead in her home in Veracruz, Mexico. A well-known reporter, she was investigating power and corruption, including the state government’s alleged relationship with violent drug organizations.
Her death frightened many journalists in Veracruz.
"It was one of the most brutal…murders of Mexican journalists in the past 20 or 30 years,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen. He is the Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Martínez’s killing is the subject of a new investigation published this month by “The Cartel Project.” It is the work of a worldwide organization of investigative journalists called Forbidden Stories. Their piece examines the investigation into her death and the mistakes made by the police. It also looks at a social media disinformation campaign about the killing, and the reporting Martínez was doing at the time she was killed. She was reporting “on thousands of people who had mysteriously disappeared in Veracruz.”
Forbidden Stories founder Laurent Richard described the organization as a group of reporters who are “continuing the work of journalists who have been killed, jailed or under threat.”
The larger goal, Richard said, is to say “to enemies of the free press that even if you kill the messenger you will never kill the message.”
Yet with the lack of arrests for journalist killings in Mexico, the continuing violence, and the anti-press comments from President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, the future of journalism in the country is “bleak,” Hootsen says.
More than 30 journalists were killed directly for their work worldwide in 2020, including at least five in Mexico, the CPJ reports. That number makes Mexico as deadly as Afghanistan, which is the deadliest country in the world for reporters. And those killings almost never end with arrests.
López Obrador has agreed that journalism is important and he has spoken out against the killings. But any attempts to bring arrests have failed, and he is often angry and uncooperative with reporters.
The president often criticizes news organizations for providing what he sees as unfavorable coverage. He once told reporters, “If you go too far, you know what will happen.” López Obrador later said he was talking about a loss of public support.
Hootsen says Mexican journalists believe the president’s language adds to the climate of violence that exists online, including death threats. Journalists also fear the new threat of doxing, which is posting personal information about journalists online. This can include their address or other personal information about their families.
Government measures have been taken to protect reporters, including a special prosecutor’s office to investigate attacks, as well as the use of bodyguards. However, at least six journalists who had the government protections were killed.
Safety in numbers
The lack of effective protection measures is a problem for journalists around the world. They often find they are left to face threats alone. Forbidden Stories is trying to change that. It was founded following several attacks on journalists, including one that received wide news coverage.
In January 2015, gunmen killed 12 people and injured several others at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Richard worked as a journalist in another office on the same floor. “This was a very traumatic event for all of us,” he said.
Richard decided the best way to protect journalists was for them to work together. He started Forbidden Stories in 2017 to connect journalists around the world. It offers protection as well as assistance in investigations. It also shows how the stories of journalists are interconnected.
“What we wanted to do with ‘The Cartel Project,’" Richard said, “is to show that when a reporter in Mexico is killed it's not only a Mexican story.” The drug cartels have international political connections.
Following leads from Martínez’s work, Forbidden Stories followed the cartels’ reach to countries around the world. The final project had five investigative news articles published at the same time by several international news organizations.
Hootsen believes such journalism efforts are important, especially when investigating things like organized crime or corruption. These are subjects that many Mexican journalists cannot work on without being targeted.
It is often impossible to find out who is behind the threats and the killings.
“It might be organized crime,” Hootsen said. He added that it could also be local officials or the two working together.
I’m Susan Shand.
Graham Vyse reported this story for VOA News. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.
Words in This Story
collaboration – n. the act of working with another person or group in order to achieve or do something
journalist – n. someone whose job is to collect, write and edit news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio
allege – v. to state without proof that someone has done something illegal
brutal – adj. violent and cruel
cartel – n. a group of business that agree to fix prices to make more money
bleak – adj. cold, unfriendly
prosecutor – n. a lawyer who represents the side in a court case that accuses a person of a crime and who tries to prove that the person is guilty
satirical – adj. criticizing people or ideas in a humorous way, especially in order to make a political point
trauma – n. a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time