The National Times - President's attacks heap pressure on Mexico's embattled media

President's attacks heap pressure on Mexico's embattled media

President's attacks heap pressure on Mexico's embattled media
President's attacks heap pressure on Mexico's embattled media

Mexico's president has stepped up his attacks on a number of media outlets in one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, branding them "mercenaries" who defend vested interests.

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Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-wing populist who faces a midterm recall referendum on Sunday, often uses his weekday press conferences to lash out at newspapers, prominent journalists and industry leaders.

"They're aligned with a conservative bloc. The goal is to hurt us," the president said in February after news articles questioned how his son's mansion in Houston fit in with his own pro-austerity agenda.

"It's very important to know that the media -- not all -- are the defenders of interest groups, of people who did not pay taxes, who were in charge of economic policy," he added.

Prominent Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui sees such criticism as "a direct attack by the president" against media figures like her.

"We are neither for nor against his government. The goal is to inform," added Aristegui, famous for hard-hitting reports on government corruption.

For Juan Pardinas, the director of the Reforma daily newspaper, part of the problem is that Lopez Obrador's attacks against the press are so frequent.

The president "has mentioned the newspaper more than 300 times in his morning conferences," Pardinas told AFP.

Reforma has been a harsh critic of major presidential projects, such as Lopez Obrador's tourist railroad in the Yucatan Peninsula and controversial energy reforms, as it was during other governments.

In February, the president accused Reforma of acting "at the service of the mafia of power, which has done a lot of harm to Mexico."

Such an attack "puts at risk not only my colleagues from the Reforma group but the entire journalistic profession," Pardinas said.

Media workers in Mexico already face myriad dangers.

Eight journalists have been killed in the Latin American country since the start of 2022, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Around 150 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, and only a fraction of the crimes have resulted in convictions, the media watchdog says.

Such killings doubled during the first three years of Lopez Obrador's term, which began in December 2018 -- to 30, compared with 15 in the same timeframe under his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto, according to media rights group Article 19.

Usually the victims are reporters working for local media in states plagued by drug cartel-related violence rather than those at the national press in the capital singled out by the president.

- 'Who's who of lies' -

In March, the European Parliament angered Lopez Obrador with a resolution urging his government to protect journalists and accusing him of using "populist rhetoric" to denigrate and intimidate the press.

Lopez Obrador accused EU lawmakers of supporting his opponents' "coup" attempt "like sheep."

On social networks, the president and his allies are sometimes the targets of disinformation about issues such as Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum's nationality or the first lady's qualifications -- rumors debunked by AFP.

The presidency now has its own fact-checking service. Every Wednesday, part of his news conference is dedicated to highlighting the "lies" attributed to journalists or political opponents.

The segment, known as the "Who's who of lies," amounts to "direct attacks on people and their reputation," historian Ana Maria Serna told AFP.

"I don't remember a presidency fighting directly with journalists (before now). In the past, other forms of censorship were used," she added.

"There was a lot of advertising bought by the federal government. It was a form of control. Another was direct payment to journalists," Serna said.

Lopez Obrador, a vocal critic of corruption, this week announced a support fund for journalists without social security, lamenting the fact that many of them "end up with nothing."