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Journalists are stronger when they work together, says Rachael Kay (Demo)

This is a translation of an article originally published on on 9 November 2019.

In a context of polarisation, generalised violence, employment insecurity and confrontations with the government, it is essential for journalists to build protection and support networks and to maintain a focus on these issues. This was underscored by Rachael Kay, deputy executive director of IFEX, a network of more than one hundred organisations that defend freedom of expression in 65 countries around the world.

“We are stronger when we are together,” the activist said. Kay travelled to Mexico as part of a coalition of international freedom of expression organisations, with the objective of increasing awareness of the issue of impunity in cases of murdered journalists.

In Kay’s opinion, collaboration in investigating crimes against journalists is an ideal tactic for combating impunity. She provided the example of recent work that revealed irregularities in the investigation into the assassination of journalist Miroslava Breach.

Project Miroslava was established by a large group of journalists who formed the 23 March Collective (Colectivo 23 de Marzo) with support from Bellingcat, Forbidden Stories and the Latin American Centre for Investigative Journalism (Centro Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Periodísticas, CLIP).

Information about the investigation was re-published in at least 40 national and international media outlets, among them Pie de Página. The accounts of the investigation explored clues in Miroslava’s case that the authorities had set aside.

“This is quite a new tactic, as an attempt to ensure that the investigation is not left to stagnate. This is something new, but very important I believe,” Kay said.

Maintaining the pressure

Kay has travelled to several continents. She is familiar with cases in Africa, Cambodia, Pakistan, and other parts of Asia, where the conditions for practising journalism are less than ideal. However, she believes that the levels of impunity in Mexico surpass all others.

Kay attended a 7 November presidential press conference at the national palace, in which representatives of the international coalition participated.

Despite the fact that there have been 10 assassinations of journalists and commentators during the first year of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government, the president demonstrated a willingness to listen to the group’s questions.

“We have to recognise that he gave us a lot of space. There was time for questions and there was quite a healthy dialogue; there were also commitments from the government regarding the budget for the mechanism for the protection of journalists,” Kay said.

Many journalists and freedom of expression defenders, however, also voiced their growing concern over what they consider stigmatisation and attacks aimed at journalism critical of the president.

As such, Kay noted, unity among journalists must prevail, not only to pressure the government to solve crimes, but also to continue the work that the murdered journalists can no longer do.

Results of the mission

The 17 international organisations that participated in the mission had never before met in Mexico. They came because, according to their assessments, in 2019 the country has become the deadliest in the world in which to practise journalism, with impunity reigning in 99 percent of cases of murders and disappearances. Further, no guarantees are provided for reporting on events without fear of reprisals, threats or violence.

The coalition organisations called on the Mexican government to reduce by two percent annually the level of impunity in crimes against journalists. They also urged the government to implement the 104 United Nations recommendations regarding the Mechanism for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and to halt government discourse that stigmatises and increases the vulnerability of thousands of journalists throughout the country.

López Obrador’s government has committed to the establishment, via the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial de Atención para los Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, FEADLE), of a semi-annual meeting to follow up on the application of a criminal investigations protocol.

However, the organisations expressed concern over the fact that Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero declined to meet with them, and that there has been no real commitment to solving crimes against journalists.

Networks of hope

Kay says she is departing from Mexico with one word in mind: hope. At least that is what she hopes has been sown among Mexican journalists. She also leaves with experience of the networks that have been formed to resist the crisis and prevent the closure of traditional media outlets.

“I was very impressed with the networking and solidarity among journalists, especially in the Mexican states. A journalist is called to go from journalism to activism because of the work conditions, but there’s also an emphasis on the importance of having networks for the times when something happens and journalists can turn to their colleagues to put out an alert and raise their voices,” Kay said.

She noted that IFEX is committed to following up on the work of the mission and strengthening international solidarity. But journalists must also join together at the local and national levels to pressure the government to resolve cases of impunity.

The post Journalists are stronger when they work together, says Rachael Kay appeared first on IFEX.


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