Muzzled: Sinaloa’s Government Silences Crime Coverage by Media Outlets – by Javier Valdez and Irene Sánchez (La Jornada)

This article was published in La Jornada on 1 August 2014.

 

  • Without debate, state legislators approve restricting crime coverage

 

  • Prohibitions imposed on journalists for going to crime scenes, taking photos or filming those allegedly involved; only official press releases can be published

 

  • NGO says the law protects corruption and police impunity

Sinaloa’s State Congress met in full special session on Wednesday. State legislators passed reforms to the laws governing the State Attorney General’s Office. These laws now prohibit media outlets accessing crime zones, and recording film, sound, or taking photos of those involved.

Governor Mario López Valdez proposed these changes. Article 51 bis now states that journalists may only obtain official press releases from the Public Information Access Unit and must always fulfill standards set by the state’s transparency laws.

The law adds a restriction: on their own initiative reporters may not handle or obtain information related to public safety or the prosecution of justice.

Another feature of the law restricts the functions of employees in the State Attorney General’s Office. These employees may not give the media access to information about criminal activities without permission of the Attorney General. The law also restricts access to records about the initial investigation to the victim, or their legal representatives, and the alleged perpetrator, through their defense attorney. The law states this access must not affect the investigation.

The Governor sent his proposals to the state congress two weeks ago. They read the bill through on Tuesday and on Wednesday passed it to unanimous approval. They say the reforms seek to bring local law in line with new federal guidelines.

The text of the approved article reads, “Media outlets will have access to information about the investigations through press releases from the Public Information Access Unit, and only when they meet the requirements of the transparency laws.”

“Under no circumstances must the media be given access to the crime scene. Neither may they record audio, video, or take photographs of people involved in a criminal act. Nor may they handle information related to public safety or the prosecution of justice.”

“No official from the State Attorney General’s Office may give reports on any subject to the media without express authorization by the Attorney General or the [Public Information] Access Unit.”

Access to the initial investigation is restricted to the victim or injured party through their legal advisor, and the alleged perpetrator via their defense attorney. Further, their access will be granted only if it does not affect the initial investigation.

At a press conference yesterday in Culiacán, Norma Sánchez and Gabriel Mercado, respectively leaders of civil society organizations Iniciativa Sinaloa and Asociación de Periodistas y Comunicadores 7 de Junio condemned the reforms to the law governing the State’s Attornery General’s Office. They warned of the reforms as a dangerous setback the aim of which is to limit news coverage and restrict access to the prosecution of justice. Sánchez said that only civil action can stop these decisions.

Mercado stated that the reforms put journalists at risk: they can be arrested if they take photos or videos of a criminal act, shutting down coverage of the police altering a crime scene or other irregularities.

– Can a journalist’s work be criminalized?

– “There’s a high risk. The state’s clear intention is that by using its bulletins only its voice can be heard and seen,” said Mercado.

A state legislator from the PRI – Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto belongs to the PRI – does think that the right to information and freedom of expression must be respected. The reform will be reviewed, and journalists’ associations consulted, something that had not been considered.

Sinaloa’s 61st Legislature also approved implementing legislation for the Victims’ Protection Law. This law obliges state and municipal authorities, their agencies and other dependencies, organizations or public or private institutions to protect crime victims, offering them aid, assistance, and full reparation.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is La Jornada’s correspondent in Sinaloa. He is founding editor of RíoDoce, an weekly online news magazine published from Culiacán, Sinaloa. Journalist Iréne Sánchez is a journalist based in Sinaloa. The original article was published under the title, “Amordaza gobierno de Sinaloa a los medios de comunicación,” is available at: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/08/01/estados/032n1est.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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