Dulce Ramos, Mexico
In 2015, violence against journalists persisted across Mexico, a continuation of the country's five-year decline in press freedom.
Over the last decade, more than 80 Mexican journalists have been killed, and 17 have gone missing. In nearly every case, impunity prevails, meaning justice is rarely achieved for journalists who lose their lives on the job.
Additionally, intimidation and threats from the country's drug cartels — and even the government itself — often silence reporters who seek to cover organized crime and corruption.
IJNet spoke with Dulce Ramos, executive editor of Animal Político, about the current state of Mexican press freedom and how she hopes things will improve in 2016:
IJNet: In what areas do you see conditions improving for Mexican journalists? Are there any independent media outlets that are emerging?
Dulce Ramos: The boom of digital media outlets in Mexico was five years ago. Despite that fact, some platforms have arisen in the past year or year and a half, but they are not necessarily journalism projects but content projects. Take a look at Pictoline. It's a site that explains news with gifs and illustrations, but they don't do any research or reporting.
The areas that are improving, I think, are the following:
Currently, two legacy media outlets have a data journalism lab or unit. I think Animal Político was a pioneer in this kind of journalism in Mexico, but we don't have a special unit. That situation has pros and cons. One con is we have to deal with the daily coverage and with special projects at the same time. One pro is that the whole team, and not just a few journalists, are encouraged to think on data journalism, digital storytelling and so on. That said, yes. I'm optimistic about the rise of those units.
Fact-checking is also a factor to be optimistic about. Animal Político started the first fact-checking section in a Mexican outlet and months after, Milenio digital started its own. We'd very much like to see this kind of journalism being a trend in Mexico. For 2016, we are planning to repeat "El Sabueso En Vivo" (The Hound Dog Live), which was a live fact-checking of President Enrique Peña Nieto's State of the Union Address that was conducted by Animal Político and readers who volunteered and brought their knowledge. Also, next year we want to fact-check the public budget.
Alliances, communities, etc. are a huge help to Mexican journalists. Groups like Chicas Poderosas or Datos y Mezcales, led by ICFJ fellow Juan Manuel Casanueva, allow journalists to build networks all over Latin America, share experiences and spread knowledge — three opportunities that are priceless nowadays in journalism.
Lastly, funding, grants, money! Despite the fact that Mexico is seen as a medium-income country and much of the funding is targeted to Central America, I think donors have seen that regardless of income, funding independent and rigorous journalism is a priority for strengthening Mexican democracy. With NarcoData, funded by Hackslabs, Hivos, Avina and ICFJ, and Vivir con el Narco, funded by the Open Society Foundation, I think we have a couple of first-class examples of cutting-edge journalism. I think Mexican journalists can aspire to more and bigger grants in the future.
Are safety conditions improving?
I'm not optimistic about safety conditions at all. Not in the part that involves the Mexican government, because almost all crimes against journalists remain unsolved. Impunity surrounds those cases. The only thing I feel optimistic about this matter is that we have strong NGOs and society is quite involved in demanding justice for those who were killed. But I expect nothing from the official side.
Are lawmakers doing anything to protect the press?
I truly believe there are lawmakers who are quite concerned about the state of Mexican freedom of speech, but the Congress as a whole is not necessarily acting accordingly. A new law about the right to reply has been passed and the National Commission of Human Rights has appealed to the Supreme Court because it considers the rule unconstitutional. The law stipulates that, for exercising that right, you have to have a lawyer and start a judicial process. This benefits the big media corporations that have strong ties with power.
Does Animal Político do anything to safeguard its reporters, or to make working conditions better for reporters in general?
Animal Político always covers crimes or aggressions related to freedom of speech. That's more than could be said for some legacy media that don't consider the killing of a journalist a front-page story. We have strong protocols to watch on our journalists when deployed to high-risk zones. Currently, all of our reporters have all labor rights covered (for instance, social security). That's uncommon in other outlets.
Do you think NarcoData's success so far will help make it easier and safer for reporters to investigate crimes and improve transparency?
Yes. Not just safer, but easier and quicker. Every single fact that happens around the drug-trafficking organizations, or the Mexican agencies in charge of the struggle against them (i.e. El Chapo's jailbreak), has to have a strong explanation. Rich context that allows the reader to understand clearly how some things happened.
And we are very optimistic about NarcoData working not only as a data repository, but as a site that can push campaigns to enforce Mexican agencies to open and generate data about the fight against organized crime.
What do you hope will happen to journalism in Mexico in 2016 and beyond?
More cutting-edge projects, awards for great investigations and platforms and, hopefully, a political class that can be scrutinized and that grow accustomed to be transparent. I also see more regional alliances to make better journalism in all Latin America.
What type of media climate would you eventually like to see in your country?
The media outlets and NGOs that work together in the MexicoLeaks alliance are learning to work as a team and to share knowledge and procedures. I think this would make the media stronger and eventually become a common way to work and cover some issues.
This interview has been edited.