Image Source: Knight Foundation
October 2018
REGION: Western Hemisphere

In “Murder in Mexico: Are Journalists Victims of General Violence or Targeted Political Violence?” Jos Midas Bartman examines the causes behind journalist deaths in Mexico. He evaluates two competing theories: that either journalists are dying as a result of generalized crime, or that they are being murdered for political reasons. Ultimately, Bartman argues that even by the most conservative of measures, it is extremely likely that journalists are politically targeted and murdered. He accomplishes this by performing a quantitative analysis of the murder rates of journalists relative to those of the general population in Mexico, as well as analyzing the various journalist murder rates across Mexico’s states.

Bartman initially asserts that Mexico “combines democratic elections with weak formal state institutions.” Specifically, while Mexico operates formally as a democracy, its government has created and maintained a significant lack of press freedom, including through violence against journalists. Contributing to this problem is corruption in the judiciary, where homicides scarcely result in convictions and the likelihood of seeing a judge is very low. Despite high rates of journalist killings, the Mexican government has asserted that journalist deaths are a product of general violence that Mexico suffers from at the hands of cartels, maintaining that it offers federal protection to journalists who request it. To evaluate this argument, Bartman tests the hypothesis that journalists in Mexico have the same probability of being murdered as members of the general population.

In contrast to the argument that journalist deaths are a result of general violence, many NGOs and civil society organizations, assert that journalists are direct victims of political targeting and are threatened consistently by officials from various levels of government. Additionally, these organizations claim that journalists are far more threatened in certain states than others, contributing to the theory that their murders were thus politically motivated. In light of these arguments, Bartman tests the hypothesis that the homicide rate among journalists varies from state to state.

Bartman finds that journalists are significantly more likely to be murdered than the general population, and that homicide rates of journalists vary significantly across different Mexican states. In fact, journalists in Mexico are more likely to die of unnatural causes than war correspondents, a fact that demonstrates the sheer danger associated with the profession in Mexico. While journalists do have an inherit a-priori risk in that they tend to head straight into dangerous situations rather than away from them, Bartman points out that this risk is at least mitigated by the middle-class nature of most journalists. Statistically, middle class citizens have a much lower chance of being homicide victims than the general population, making the high homicide rate for journalists all the more significant. The higher homicide risk for all journalists, whether critical of the government or not, across the country indicates that government officials in various Mexican states are likely targeting journalists.

It is important to note that there is tension in the relationship between officials at the federal and state levels, as state governments often attempt to hide the extent of criminal influence and corruption within their borders, so as to avoid federal intervention. In Bartman’s analysis, different states need different degrees of press freedom suppression in order to achieve that goal, which explains the high degree of variability in journalist death rates across the various states.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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