Dark Clouds over Sunshine Week as Network Fires Mexico’s Leading Investigative Team
National Security Archive deeply troubled over dismissal of journalists in Mexico
This post reflects the views and opinions of Michael Evans, Jesse Franzblau and Kate Doyle of the Archive’s Mexico Project staff.
The National Security Archive is deeply troubled over the decision by Mexican news network Noticias MVS to dismantle the country’s top investigative team, led by Carmen Aristegui, host of the network’s Primera Emisión program. The loss of these journalists and Aristegui’s entire program is a severe blow to independent journalism and free speech in Mexico. Our regret is all the more profound since the actions taken by MVS silence a group of journalists with whom we have had a longstanding and fruitful collaborative relationship.
MVS terminated their relationship with the award-winning journalist and host of one of Mexico’s most popular news programs yesterday after rejecting Aristegui’s demand that the network reinstate the top two members of her team. Last week, MVS fired the head of Aristegui’s investigative unit, Daniel Lizárraga, and another member of the team, reporter Irving Huerta, after Aristegui told her listeners that she and her staff had joined with other media and advocacy groups in forming MexicoLeaks, a digital platform meant to facilitate leaks of classified information to investigative journalists. Other media groups involved with MexicoLeaks include Animal Político, emeequis, Másde131, Periodistas de a Pie, Poder, Proceso, and the Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales.
Aristegui issued a statement on the air Friday, indicating that she had not been notified of plans to dismiss the journalists and characterizing the firings as an attack on press freedom. She called for the unconditional reinstatement of her colleagues, saying the fired reporters are “essential” to the investigative work of her program. The same day, the network issued a new, more restrictive set of guidelines for the popular radio host, who also anchors an evening program on CNN México. The new rules, which would have taken effect today, essentially reversed the broad editorial discretion granted to Aristegui in her 2009 contract, giving the network final say over program content.
Aristegui, Lizárraga and Huerta are three of the most essential advocates for greater transparency in Mexico and have used the country’s access law to produce a number of game-changing investigative stories. It was their team that exposed conflict-of-interest in a deal between President Enrique Peña Nieto and a real estate developer who built an opulent mansion for the president and later won lucrative government contracts. Their reporting has revealed key details on recent human rights cases and a prostitution ring being run by a top member of the president’s political party in Mexico City. More recently the team had been using the access law to probe the murder and attempted cover-up by the Army of 22 suspected gang members in Tlatlaya.
Last year, Michael Evans and Jesse Franzblau of the Archive were named along with Lizárraga, Huerta, Aristegui, and other members of their team as part of the official selection for the 2014 Gabriel García Márquez award. The nomination was the result of a joint investigation with MVS Noticias revealing newly-declassified evidence of a secret U.S. espionage facility in Mexico City. In December, their team provided comprehensive coverage of a document we obtained confirming police participation in the 2011 migrant massacres in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. In April 2014, we worked with them on a story looking at declassified records from the first, failed, attempt by Mexican forces to capture an infamous drug kingpin.
The Archive’s history of working with Lizárraga dates back to his days as a journalist at the newsweekly Proceso. In 2006, the Archive hosted him in Washington, DC, at a forum for open government advocates to share experiences using transparency laws in investigative journalism. Daniel has been one of the leading journalists using Mexico’s freedom of information law since it was passed in 2003, and his work has been an inspiration to journalists using access laws to investigate government corruption.
It is our sincere hope that our friends Carmen, Daniel and Irving will find a new venue to continue their essential work. The Archive offers its full support to these courageous journalists and looks forward to future projects with the entire investigative team.
Michael Evans, Jesse Franzblau and Kate Doyle