Feb 27, 2024 - World

Mexican president's dox of journalist shows perils of reporting in country

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during his daily morning news conference Feb. 9, 2024. Photo: Alex Dalton/ Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during his daily morning news conference Feb. 9. Photo: Alex Dalton/ Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's repeated claims that he has a "political right" to dox a journalist is indicative of the safety issues that reporters and activists face in the country as it heads into presidential elections

Why it matters: Mexico has long been one of the deadliest countries for journalists.

  • "That means murdered journalists, but also intimidation," says Mariana Suárez, lead for press freedom protection at defense group Article 19's Mexico and Central American bureau.
  • "On average, there's an aggression against a journalist every 16 hours … and during electoral times, that violence tends to increase," Suárez tells Axios Latino.
  • In most cases, In most cases, it's not just criminal groups that are behind those aggressions, but public officials, too, be it at the local, state or federal level, she adds.

Driving the news: Last week, López Obrador read aloud the cellphone number of a New York Times reporter during his widely broadcast morning presser, in which he usually speaks uninterruptedly for hours and sometimes presents what he calls "alternative data."

  • The reporter, Natalie Kitroeff, had reached out for comment before running a story saying U.S. authorities had looked into allegations that people close to López Obrador met with suspected cartel leaders to get campaign money in 2018 — the year the president was elected.
  • ProPublica last month published a story on a similar U.S. inquiry into López Obrador's unsuccessful 2006 campaign.
  • López Obrador says the stories amount to slander.

Mexican law requires authorities to protect people's personal data.

  • When criticized for sharing Kitroeff's cell number, López Obrador said Friday his "moral and political authority are above the privacy act" and claimed reports of risks to journalists are mostly hearsay from "special interests groups."
  • Yes, but: When Claudia Sheinbaum, López Obrador's protégé and a current presidential candidate, and one of his sons said this weekend they received threatening messages after their phone numbers were apparently leaked, the president said that was "shameful." It's unknown who leaked their information.

Zoom in: In January, the personal addresses and other sensitive private information of more than 300 journalists who had applied for press credentials were leaked, and AMLO's office admitted they had been taken from its servers. The government claimed the leak was an effort to make the president look bad.

  • But "there is still no clarity about how (the leak is) being investigated or what is being done so it doesn't happen again," Suárez says.

Between the lines: López Obrador came into power promising he would not follow in the footsteps of past presidents who had been accused of using spyware against human rights activists and reporters and restricting access to public information.

  • But reports show spyware use has continued, and López Obrador has used his pressers to criticize the government accountability office, electoral authorities, human rights groups, mothers who are searching for their disappeared children, parents of kids who can't get cancer medicines and others.
  • The president also regularly says journalists are "groups of thugs" allegedly acting against his "plans for transformation," and claims despite evidence to the contrary that they didn't demand accountability of his predecessors.

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