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The Right to Information in Mexico

March 28, 2012

The Mexican Senate has recently passed an amendment to the federal constitution that would make crimes against the press subject to federal jurisdiction. The idea, apparently, is to bypass state and local authorities that are prone to corruption. The amendment needs to be ratified by a majority of Mexican states, which Senators expect to happen by June. I’m guessing it will take longer than that, but hopefully it will happen. More journalists were killed in Mexico than any other country and violence against the press tends to go unpunished – Mexico’s impunity rate ranks eighth worldwide and second in Latin America. Keeping journalists safe should fortify and embolden the press, which might just have a salutary effect on Mexican democracy.

I would argue, of course, that Mexico would benefit more from a citizens’ press, anchored in civil society, than from a commercial press oriented toward capital accumulation. That’s why the wording of the amendment, as Danny O’Brien has pointed out, is especially encouraging. The amendment states that the feds will have jurisdiction over any offense “against journalists, people, or outlets that affects, limits, or impinges upon the right to information and freedom of expression and the press” (“contra periodistas, personas o instalaciones que afecten, limiten o menoscaben el derecho a la información o las libertades de expresión o imprenta“). With this wording, enforcement won’t necessarily hinge on a victim’s standing as a journalist, a determination that has proven contentious time and time again (and again), largely because it has been bound up with a nineteenth century model of professional journalism.

Of course, the proof is in the proverbial pudding and, as O’Brien points out: “constitutional amendments are allowed a little more leeway in their language than the laws and court judgments that spell out how they should be enacted. And the effectiveness of Mexico’s press protections will depend far more on the secondary legislation and the vigor of its investigating prosecutors than the letter of the law.” But constitutional recognition of a “right to information” is a definite positive. In other Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Venezuela, similar constitutional guarantees have been used as the basis for legislative frameworks that enable the provision of resources for the creation and maintenance of community media outlets.

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