MEXICO CITY —
Mexican investigative reporter Regina Martinez fearlessly dedicated herself to exposing wrongdoing by government officials in her home state of Veracruz.
That came to an end in 2012, when she was strangled to death in her house. According to the government, she was robbed and killed. The suspect was sent to prison.
But Martinez’s colleagues didn’t believe that story and maintained that she was targeted because of her journalism.
To the people who worked with Martinez and with scores of other journalists who have been killed in Mexico, the announcement Friday that the Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to two journalists — from the Philippines and Russia — felt like an important acknowledgment of those deaths.
” I completely identify with this award,” Jorge Carrasco said, the editor of the newsweekly Proceso where Martinez was a correspondent. “It’s a recognition of the journalistic profession in the whole world.”
The Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, applauding “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Both have exposed secrets of those in power and have faced threats for their work, a common experience for journalists as more and more countries see the rise of authoritarian leaders who are openly hostile toward a free press.
“They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this idea in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” the Nobel committee said. This message was heard in all newsrooms around the world. The award “recognizes journalism’s contribution to bringing about a better society through searching for truths that are difficult for the powerful,” tweeted Jaime Abello Banfi (director of Gabo Foundation), which is dedicated improving journalism in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.
The prize recognizes “independent journalists all over the world,” he stated.
Both winners “continuously defycensorship and repression to reporting the news, and have set the example for others to follow,” Joel Simon, the executive director of The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. The Nobel Peace Prize is a powerful acknowledgment of their tireless work and that of journalists around the globe. Their struggle is our struggle.”
In its latest annual survey, his organization reported that as of last December at least 274 journalists worldwide were jailed in relation to their work. China was followed by Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia as the worst jailer for journalists.
In Mexico, at least 130 journalists have been killing over the last three decades — a figure topped only by Iraq, Syria and the Philippines. The five killed so far in 2021 are more than in any other country.
Despite the risks, Mexican reporters take on corrupt politicians and gangsters in pursuit of some proximity of the truth. The work is often tedious and pay is minimal.
Much violence in Mexico is caused by organized crime and politicians who are involved in it. Many of the victims were killed due to links between corrupt lawmakers and gangs.
Most journalist murders remain unsolved. The majority of arrests involve low-level hitmen — not corrupt officials or crime bosses who pay murderers and order them.
This summer, an online video purportedly from Mexico’s Jalisco New Generation cartel threatened Azucena Uesti, a well-known TV news anchor. The cartel was dissatisfied with Uresti’s coverage of the cartel turf war in western Michoacan.
“I will make you eat their words, even though they accuse me feminicide,” said a mob member in the video. He was supposedly repeating the message from Ruben Oseguera Cevantes, the cartel leader.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador condemned the threat and offered protection to Uresti through a government agency that provides security to targeted journalists. The president is often critical of the press and offers protection to Uresti through a government agency that provides security for targeted journalists.
So far in 2021, the Mexican free-press group Articulo 19 has recorded 362 “aggressions” — including physical, verbal and online threats — against Mexican journalists, or one every 12 hours, according to its director, Leopoldo Maldonado. He said that many people see the Nobel as validation for years of hard and risky digging and investigation.
“It is a recognition of journalists who criticize power,” Maldonado stated. “And it’s an incentive that they keep on doing that work.”
It is also a sign to repressive leaders, politicians, police and others that actions against the press may not go unnoticed.
” “I believe this sends out a very powerful signal to those governments and politicians,” Maldonado stated.
Still, few in Mexico are hopeful that a Nobel for two journalists in far-off nations will make any difference in what many regard as a perpetual open season on journalists.
“As a journalist in Mexico, I can’t afford to think this will make much difference,” said Victor Ortega, editor of El Salmantino news site, based in Salamanca, a gritty oil-processing hub in the violence-plagued central state of Guanajuato.
One of his reporters, Israel Vazquez Rangel, was shot dead last year while responding to the scene of a homicide. Authorities announced the arrests last year of two suspects, but they have not provided any details on the motive or who is behind the murder almost one year after the fact.
” If you are a journalist in this country you may lose your life,” Ortega stated. “Today, you are alive. They can kill you at any time. … This prize is indeed a nice thing. But in truth, for journalism in Mexico, it’s basically a footnote.”
McDonnell is a Times staff writer and Sanchez a special correspondent. This report was contributed by Andres D’Alessandro, Buenos Aires special correspondent, and Liliana Nieto Del Rio, Mexico City special correspondent.