This week, the Mexican Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would give the federal government jurisdiction over murders of journalists, taking over that responsibility from local officials who are often either ineffective, corrupt, or both. Brooke speaks with Eugenio Herrera, the General Counsel for Groupo Reforma, the largest newspaper publisher in Mexico about the amendment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week the Mexican Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would give the federal government jurisdiction over the investigation of murders of journalists, taking over that responsibility from local officials who are often either ineffective or corrupt, or both. The Committee to Protect Journalists says that a special prosecutor appointed to investigate crimes against freedom of expression in 2006 has never solved a murder case involving a journalist. Eugenio Herrera is the General Counsel for Groupo Reforma, Mexico’s largest newspaper publisher. Welcome to the show.
EUGENIO HERRERA: Oh, thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this new amendment has been approved by the Mexican Senate. It’s likely to be approved by the states. But is it necessary?
EUGENIO HERRERA: It’s necessary because police, local investigators and prosecutors are not showing that they are capable of conducting these investigations. The people, through Congress, is showing concern to what’s happening to journalists. It’s a good start.
But on the other side, what I don’t like about this amendment is that it’s a constitutional recognition that something is wrong in our system of justice. What I believe is that the medicine indicates a great illness in our society.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In 2010 we spoke with El Diario Editor Gerardo Rodriguez who had opined in an editorial that they weren’t going to be covering the cartels anymore after the death of a staff photographer.
EUGENIO HERRERA: That’s something that’s really happening. Let me give you an example. We print a story on our front page about things that happen in the war against the drug cartels 2,000 miles away. The local media that are closer to the event, and it’s important to their community, they will not tell the story. Why? Because of the killing effect, what to me is the worst any of freedom of speech and the people’s rights to know. So that is going on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, a Special Prosecutor’s Office was created in 2006 to investigate the crimes against freedom of expression that were already classified as federal offenses. As I said, that office has never solved a single murder case involving a journalist. I assume that’s why this authority for investigating those cases is moving to Federal authorities. But that’s also thousands of miles away from where these attacks actually take place. Do you think that there’s any likelihood that they’re going to get a better track record?
EUGENIO HERRERA: Well, experience has shown us that it doesn’t because it could be in the law, it could be in statute. For instance, in the Federal Criminal Code it says that homicide is punishable from 30 to 60 years in prison. But let me underline this, Brooke, provided the criminal is ever arrested. So why should this new law deter criminals or drug cartels from attacking the media if they’re not gonna ever get arrested, you know?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: More than 40 journalists have been killed or “disappeared” since President Calderón launched his massive military offensive against the drug cartels after taking office in 2006. What about that offensive against the cartels put the journalists so much more at risk?
EUGENIO HERRERA: As a result of the government’s offensive against the drug cartels, the result was a poisonous environment for the media to report on facts related to the drug cartels.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Because it would bring the Feds down on them?
EUGENIO HERRERA: And not just that, but because there is a war going on in the streets, things like killing a journalist, they will do it now because it’s a mess and everybody’s shooting everybody – so why not?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I was trying to think of analogies in the United States, and it struck me that killing a police officer is often punished more harshly than killing an ordinary civilian. The assumption is that cop killing is a direct assault on social stability. I wonder if this amendment is a recognition by the Mexican government that killing journalists similarly threatens society?
EUGENIO HERRERA: It is, Brooke. And it is because it’s gonna be a federal case now. And, in fact, it’s punishable harder if it’s a federal offense. Then again, we also have higher prison punishments for kidnapping for ransom, for drug trafficking, and that doesn’t seem to deter criminals from committing those crimes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So harsher penalties for kidnapping somebody for ransom, that seems to be harsher penalties for killing or threatening rich people than for ordinary poor people on the street who wouldn’t pay a random. I wonder whether or not there might be some resentment against journalists for giving them a special status under the law?
EUGENIO HERRERA: No, I – I don’t think so because people is very aware that killing a journalist would not only affect the journalist that was killed and the family but society in general.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
EUGENIO HERRERA: You’re welcome, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eugenio Herrera is the General Counsel for Groupo Reforma, the largest newspaper publisher in Mexico.