lunes, 11 de mayo de 2009

Failure in press freedom

(Version en español, aquí)

My friend Carlos showed me recently a study published by the organization 'Freedom House', which classifies all countries in the world, regarding the press freedom level in each one.

The study is like this: There are 23 questions classified into three categories -legal, political and economic environment-, which address various factors that may affect the freedom of the press.

An example of a legal question is "Do the penal code, security laws, or any other laws restrict reporting, and are journalists punished under these laws?”; a politics one:" Are journalists or media outlets subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor?" and an economics one: “Do the state or other actors try to control the media through allocation of advertising or subsidies?”

The answers have a value that can range from 0 to 3 or even 6 negative points (it varies according to each question).

The more "negative" the answer is, in terms of describing an environment that restricts freedom, the higher its score; and the sum of all those questions’ points is what determines how much press freedom the country has.

The countries that scored from 0 to 30 points are classified as "free"; those with 31 to 60 are "partly free"; and if they score from 61 to 100, they are "not free".

Once that the above has been explained, let’s see the top section of the table:

As it can be seen, the country with the highest level of press freedom is Iceland, followed by Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (yes: they are precisely all the Scandinavian countries).

Then there are a series of European countries, and it is not until the 15th position where the first American country appears, which is surprisingly Jamaica (who would say that this small island have more press freedom than anyone else on the continent?). The United States appear only in the position #24.

The Spanish-speaking country with the lowest negative score is Costa Rica (19 points, # 27), then it comes Spain (24, # 49), Uruguay (26, # 53) and Chile (29, # 63).

By now, you're for sure wondering: What about Mexico?

I have very bad news: Mexico is among the Latin American countries with less press freedom, at least under the criteria of this specialized organization.

With 55 points, we are the #30 of the continent (#115 worldwide), and the only ones that are behind us are Colombia (59), Paraguay (59), Guatemala (60), Venezuela (73) and Cuba (94).

I must be honest and accept that this result astonished me. After the days of PRI’s censorship, I’ve really refused to accept the assertions stating in Mexico there is no freedom of press.

But this exercise forces me to rethink this belief, and I have a couple of thoughts with regard of this: In some way I still think that my perception that there is no active censorship in Mexico is correct; but now I realize that while this is true in the area where I live -the Mexico City media, with national circulation- things are different with the press in many other places.

Journalists who work in regional media, obviously have much more pressure from local authorities, and thus live in a situation that is quite different from the freedom that the national press, one way or another, enjoys.

And there is another, very important factor: the organized crime, especially drug dealers.

To say that many regional media are under pressure from the drug mafia, is an understatement: things go far beyond of a pressure, as they range from physical aggression and threats of all kinds, to murder of journalists who pry too much.

I remember a conversation that Carmen Aristegui held with the editor of a northern Mexico newspaper -years before of the insane current violence-. He admitted that his newspaper had made an agreement with the other media of his city, to ignore practically any issues of drug trafficking, due to the many threats and assaults that they had received.

So, every time you see that El Universal, La Jornada, Excelsior, Reforma or any other newspapers of Mexico City show an attitude of denouncing, and boldly confront the powerful, you must remember that it is sort of an isolated attitude: Mexican media in general are threatened by economic and political power, that very effectively have us as one of the countries with less press freedom in the Americas.

By the way, if you're interested, here you can know Freedom House, and here are the results of the Press Freedom survey of 2009.

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