By: Mark Fitzgerald
In a kind of valedictory as he nears the end of his presidency of Mexico, Vicente Fox came to the Inter American Press Association annual meeting in Mexico City Monday to vigorously defend his free-press record during a term that was unusually deadly for journalists.
“In this government we put an end to censorship,” Fox declared in a speech formally opening the 62nd IAPA General Assembly. He said his administration, which ends Dec. 1 when his PAN Party colleague Felipe Calderon is inaugurated, was the most transparent in Mexico’s history.
Although Fox was responsible for a number of pro-press initiatives during his six years, including the adoption of the first national freedom of information law, he pointed out only one specific action. “In March 2005, in a meeting with IAPA, I promised that Notimex would be transferred out of the government,” he said, referring to the one-time state news agency. Since this June, he said, Notimex is out of state hands, “with complete editorial independence.”
Much of the discussion in IAPA in the days before Fox’s appearance concerned the bloody toll that organized crime, in conjunction often with corrupt authorities, has taken on Mexico’s press. During Fox’s term, 22 journalists were murdered as a result of their work, and two disappeared and are presumed dead. As a result of the violence — much of it cantered along the violent northern border where rival drug cartels content — many news organizations have adopted a stance of self-censorship on narcotics trafficking stories.
Fox called that violence “inadmissible in a democracy,” and declared “organized crime the prime enemy of the free press.”
While the federal government for a long time disclaimed responsibility for the protection of journalists, saying it was a matter for local authorities, Fox two years ago began authorizing federal investigations, and appointed a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists.
“Governments are obligated to guarantee that media can operate freely and in security, without censorship or pressure,” Fox said.
“This is a struggle that we are going to win,” he declared.
On Sunday night, IAPA members heard from the incoming president, Felipe Calderon, at an elaborate dinner in the historic center of Mexico City that was sponsored by the daily El Universal to celebrate its 90th anniversary.
Under heavy military security that closed off many of the cobblestone streets around the Palacio de Minerio, Calderon used the occasion to criticize the U.S. Senate for approving a double wall on the U.S./Mexican border.
“It’s lamentable that in certain sectors of U.S. politics don’t seem to be able to comprehend the magnitude and integration of the migration phenomenon,” he said. Mexico and the U.S., he said, should be pursuing links that “unite and do not divide.”
Calderon also declared that “there will be no censorship of any kind in this government.”
As delegates applauded, Calderon signed the Declaration of Chapultepec that pledges signators from nations around the hemisphere to respect the full range of freedom of expression, including freedom of the press. The document, created by IAPA in 1994, was first adopted in Mexico City at the historic castle of Chapultepec.