Mexico journalist's firing angers free speech advocates

Dismissal of broadcast journalist Carmen Aristegui prompts petition to get her reinstated and accusations of censorship.

    Mexico journalist's firing angers free speech advocates
    Aristegui was locked in a public battle with her employer since two investigative reporters were fired last week [AP]

    Known simply as "Carmen" to her legions of supporters, the dismissal of Carmen Aristegui from her daily four-hour radio show has provoked anger on Mexican social media.

    One tweeted: "the voice of Aristegui, although we haven’t always liked it, is necessary in our democracy."

    Another said: "I hope our eyes are opened by the firing of Aristegui. This confirms for us that we live not in a democracy but in an 'Imperfecta Teledictadura.'"

    The reference to an "imperfect dictatorship" is an allusion to the dominance of Mexico's PRI (or Institutional Revolutionary Party), which held power for 70 years, and was nicknamed "the perfect dictatorship" for its grip on the presidential office.

    Ousted in 2000, the party returned to office with President Enrique Pena Nieto in late 2012.

    The decision by broadcaster MVS Noticias to fire Aristegui is being seen as further evidence that dissent and criticism have their limits in Mexico.

    It was Aristegui's team which last year revealed that Angelica Rivera, Mexico’s first lady and a former soap star, was in the process of acquiring a luxury house from a government contractor that had won millions of dollars in state business.

    'Censorship is a monster'

    Aristegui had been locked in a public battle with her employer, MVS Noticias, since two of her investigative reporters were fired last week. She criticised the decision - including during her live radio show which attracts an audience of at least 15 million - and said if anything they should be awarded prizes for their work.

    She issued an ultimatum that they be reinstated. Announcing its decision online on Sunday night, MVS, said it was severing its relationship with Aristegui because "as a company, we can't accept conditions and ultimatums".

    We don’t yet have the evidence that proves that MVS made a deal with the government but there's no question they wanted to shut her up.

    San Juana Martinez, independent journalist

    The company said it had fired the two journalists because they had used the company’s name without permission in a new journalistic endeavour, MexicoLeaks, a website created to receive leaked documents exposing corruption anonymously.

    It is not the first time Aristegui has parted ways with her employer. In 2011, she was fired after refusing to publicly apologise after she had said on-air that then Mexican president Felipe Calderon should respond to allegations of a drinking problem.

    At the time MVS Noticias had been waiting to renew its broadcast licence. It said she had violated the company's code of ethics by "broadcasting rumour as news".

    She commented at the time: "an act like this is only imaginable in a dictatorship that nobody wants for Mexico: punishing for opining or questioning rulers."

    Last week she again complained about the "authoritarian wind" blowing through the country.

    San Juana Martinez, an independent journalist who has worked with Aristegui, told Al Jazeera that in Mexico "censorship is a monster with a thousand heads. We don’t yet have the evidence that proves that MVS made a deal with the government but there’s no question they wanted to shut her up".

    Threats on the rise

    The MVS ombudsman, tasked with investigating complaints from listeners, also agreed last week that the two reporters' dismissal was out of proportion.

    The dangers, threats and intimidation to journalists working in Mexico are well-documented and according to many groups like the free press defence organisation Article 19 on the increase.

    It is in this context, and against a backdrop of very high mass media ownership in few hands, that Aristegui’s willingness to confront the powerful - and her own employers - has afforded her such prominence.

    Ricardo Raphael, Dean of Journalism at CIDE University, told Al Jazeera, "what has happened is disproportionate. There is no explanation as to why the two journalists had to be fired rather than just talked to. That’s why people are asking if there is another hand in it."

    Raphael also remarked that the firings had taken place ahead of important legislative elections in June, adding the case is a reminder of the fragile nature of Mexican journalism.

    "Things are getting worse. Yes, we do have freedom of expression but when the powerful don’t like criticism we see this. I am hoping there will be an outcry. This is the kind of journalism we want to see."

    The last time Aristegui was fired she was reinstated after days of public protests. This time too there is already a campaign for her to return to the airwaves - nearly 170,000 have signed a petition - and for subscribers to cancel their contracts with MVS' parent company, Dish.

    As for Aristegui, speaking outside the offices of her now former employer on Monday she said her dismissal was an attack on freedom of expression and that "we must keep fighting". Her photograph, once so prominent on MVS Noticias' website, has been removed.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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