[Case Study] Artículo 19
Artículo 19 is the Mexico City-based chapter of Article 19, a global organization based in London that promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide. The Mexico City chapter carries out the organization’s mission in Mexico and Central America through three main areas of focus: 1) freedom of expression and the protection of journalists, 2) access to information, and 3) legal support against impunity. The organization takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”1
According to Darío Ramírez, the director of Artículo 19 in Mexico, the state of free speech and the security of journalists in Mexico are both in decline. According to their 2009 report on ‘aggressions against free speech in Mexico’ there were more assassinations and disappearances (meaning a body was never found) in 2009 than any other year since they first began measuring in 2001. In fact, in 2009 there were roughly the same number of murdered or disappeared journalists as there were collectively from 2001 – 2004. Artículo 19 registered a total of 244 cases of attacks and threats against journalists working in Mexico in 2009. While Ramírez admits that organized crime and the drug war are responsible for much of the increased violence, he emphatically points out that “public officials or those with links to political parties can be cited as the main perpetrators in more than 65 per cent of the attacks, compared to six per cent for criminal gangs. The Mexican army is cited in 26 abuses.”
Ramírez describes two main obstacles to protecting journalists and freedom of expression in Mexico. First, there is a lack of political will to fight the culture of impunity that shields those who violate the right for journalists to investigate and publish freely without fear for their safety. Some observers might point to the 2006 creation of the “Special Commission for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Journalists” by the Mexican Attorney General as evidence that the federal government is taking the problem seriously, but Ramírez and his colleagues at Artículo 19 insist that the new commission is not sufficiently equipped with the necessary political power to hold rights offenders accountable, especially those who hold political office or are part of the military. The second major obstacle is a lack of unity among journalists themselves. Ideological and editorial differences, says Ramírez, often get in the way of journalists standing up for the fundamental rights of one another. If political institutions are unwilling to effectively face the problem, then journalists themselves and the media organizations they work for must do more to spread visibility about the threats to journalists’ safety and free speech in the country.
Artículo 19 has four main strategies in its promotion of free speech in Mexico, in addition to its annual reports documenting aggressions against journalists. First it has developed a guide titled “Prevent, in Order to Then Inform: a practical guide to security in high-risk zones” which is used in their “Security for Journalists” workshops. Their second strategy, called the “Caja de Resonancia” (“Amplifier”) is an effort to network all Mexican journalists without regard to editorial line or geographic location to commit to the singular objective of standing up for the right to free speech in Mexico. By creating a sense of community and good will among the journalists, Artículo 19 hopes to ensure that they will all speak out against threats and aggressions to any member of the network. The third strategy is a public advocacy campaign to create a federal committee for the protection of journalists. Unlike the current “Special Commission for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Journalists“, Artículo 19’s proposed committee would be made up of citizen representatives that are empowered to offer services and security to threatened journalists, and to investigate perpetrators who threaten the safety of journalists. Ramírez candidly admits that he does not yet see the necessary political will to create such a federal committee, but he and his colleagues will keep advocating for its creation until they see a satisfactory response from the government. Finally, their fourth strategy encompasses the other three projects by spreading awareness in various media about the lack of free expression in Mexico and the constant threat to journalists’ safety. A number of Artículo 19 staff write weekly posts on their Anticensura blog, which is hosted by El Universal.mx. Darío Ramírez also writes a column about issues related to free speech in the print version of El Universal and is a frequent guest on Radio Trece with Javier Solórzano.
Use of Digital Media:
In addition to its main website, Artículo 19 uses three other platforms to spread awareness online about its work, campaigns, and objectives. First is its Anticensura blog at El Universal.mx which offers weekly posts related to freedom of expression in Mexico and Central America. The blog is an excellent resource, both in terms of content and as an aggregation of news, research, and legislation related to the topic of free speech and journalists’ safety in Mexico. The majority of posts have been read at least 24,000 times and a few have attracted lively discussions with ten to twenty comments. Some comments offer personal testimonies that illustrate the general arguments and observations made in each post. While the updates to the main website are almost all official press releases aimed at journalists and NGOs, the Anticensura blog is more accessible to a general audience that is interested in learning how censorship affects them directly. Whereas text updates on the official website don’t allow for comments and probably wouldn’t inspire much discussion, posts on Anticensura have led to several interesting exchanges with comments that add further value to the information, such as this discussion of politicians’ criticisms of how the country is portrayed in the media. Artículo 19 also uses the blog to regularly remind readers of the number of murdered, disappeared, and threatened journalists so far in 2010. Rather than waiting to publish its annual, year-end report, the organization can create constant awareness and judge the attention given to each case by the number of times the article is read and the number of incoming links from other media organizations, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.
The Anticensura blog serves as the heart of Artículo 19’s digital media content, but that content is re-distributed via their Twitter account (410 followers) and Facebook profile (466 friends). The organization publishes the same content on both Facebook and Twitter, but it is most likely directed toward different audiences. In addition to using the platforms to spread awareness about Artículo 19’s press releases, blog posts, conferences, and media appearances, they also re-distribute other digital media that is relevant to freedom of speech in the region. For example, they recently re-tweeted a message by the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) linking to a press release that “strongly condemns renewed acts of violence that, in separate incidents, took the lives of two journalists in Mexico and damaged a radio station’s installations.” That same message was then re-tweeted by five other users. The Artículo 19 Twitter account has a useful set of lists of relevant Twitter accounts organized by the categories of transparency, NGOs, journalists, and media organizations. It is also useful to see which other Twitter and Facebook users follow the Artículo 19 accounts — this serves as a loosely connected and constantly evolving network of online users interested in the topic of free speech.
Where both the Twitter and Facebook accounts are best employed is in linking recently produced digital media with well researched statistics from their annual reports. By following the Twitter account of Chiapas-based Proceso reporter Isaín Mandujano, Artículo 19 discovered and reported a YouTube video of Mexican soldiers roughly harassing reporters at the scene of a shootout in Nuevo Laredo on July 13. That message was then re-tweeted by four other users. Artículo 19 added context to the video by reminding readers that the Mexican army was cited in 26 abuses against reporters in the organization’s 2009 report. Later that day Artículo 19 re-tweeted a message from the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics that linked to an official message from the Secretary of National Defense, which stated that it disapproved the conduct of the soldiers and would investigate the situation.
Ramírez says that he is especially interested in the use of Twitter as a national alert system to create more visibility of cases when the safety of journalists is threatened. This could be done with a special hashtag that is used to report and denounce threats to the safety of journalists.
As always, the use of digital media has its potential disadvantages as well. Unverified rumors can easily spread on Twitter and it is up to trusted organizations like Artículo 19 to fact check reports before spreading them further. Also, it is easy for like-minded organizations to get stuck in an echo chamber rather than carefully considering the perspectives and competing proposals of other groups. Blogs and other social media offer a space for deliberative discussion that, unfortunately, is seldom taken advantage of.
Organizations working on similar issues:
- Centro de Periodismo y Etica Publica
- Campaña Permanente de Protección a Periodistas en México
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Centro Nacional de Comunicación
- Freedom House
- Reporteros sin Fronteras
- The International Freedom of Expression eXchange
- Special Commission for the Attention of Crimes Committed Against Journalists
- World Association of Community Radio Stations – Mexico
- Communication and Information for Women
- The Foundation for the Press and Democracy – Mexico
Artículo 19 is well ahead of most similar organizations in its use of a blog and its Twitter and Facebook accounts to both spread information and network like-minded organizations and individuals to advocate for a common cause. Its website, however, feels out of date and is difficult to navigate. By making the raw data from their annual reports easily accessible for re-use in XML and CSV formats it is likely that others will help visualize the data in new and interesting ways. Some other specific recommendations:
- Create a map and timeline view of threatened journalists in Mexico with profiles and graphs similar to the Threatened Voices project.
- License all content under a Creative Commons Attribution license to promote re-purposing of text and the translation of content into other languages.
- LInk to similar, relevant blogs from the sidebar of Anticensura.
- Work with a volunteer to translate blog posts from Anticensura into English and other languages.
- List staff profiles on the website with links to all of the blog posts they have authored.
- Embed the latest ten twitter messages on the front page of the website.
- In addition to publishing the raw statistics from the annual reports in XML and CSV formats, also publish the reports themselves in HTML, not just PDF. Graphs and images should be made available as .jpeg’s and can be re-distributed on Flickr. Link to all annual reports from the home page using a drop-down menu.
- Consider collaborating with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Centro de Periodismo Digital to create an online class on “secure journalism” for participants who might not be able to attend workshops in person.
- Organize a conference call with all of the above-mentioned organizations that promote free speech and journalist safety in Mexico to agree upon a Twitter hashtag to serve as an alert system for threatened journalists in Mexico.
- Re-launch the YouTube account to share organizational videos of workshops and other events, and also to aggregate all videos related to freedom of speech in Mexico.