Mexican governor backtracks on state censorship after media outcry
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Mexican governor backtracks on state censorship after media outcry

Following a fierce public backlash, the governor of Sinaloa state has vowed to repeal legislation passed last week that would have effectively prohibited local reporters from covering crime.

Introduced by Governor Mario López Valdez, the controversial bill was passed unanimously by Sinaloa’s state congress on July 31.

But after the Mexican press furiously denounced the legislation as censorship, Lopez pledged on August 4 to abolish the bill.

Under the new law, journalists in Sinaloa, a state in northwest Mexico, would have been forbidden from reporting “information related to public safety or law enforcement,” accessing crime scenes or photographing, filming or recording audio of anyone involved in a crime.

The local media would have been limited to publishing information from official press releases issued by the Sinaloa Attorney General’s Office, but no one from that office would have been allowed to speak to journalists without the Attorney General’s express permission.

On August 7 journalists marched in five cities across Sinaloa to voice their opposition to the bill, which is due to be formally repealed by the state legislature on August 21.

Why was the bill passed?

State officials had claimed that the legislation would help preserve the integrity of crime scenes and ensure that defendants received fair trials, but the Los Angeles Times speculated that it may have been “part of a trend fostered by the national government of President Enrique Peña Nieto to downplay news about drug wars and other violence as a way to attract outside investors.”

Juan Manuel Partida Valdez, the president of the Sinaloa Journalists’ Association, was quick to condemn the amendments as “characteristic of a dictatorship.” The new law would have encouraged corruption and impunity, limited transparency and effectively criminalized journalists, who could have been arrested for simply documenting criminal activity, he said.

The abolishment of the bill represents a victory for press freedom in Mexico, but the members of the media remain threatened by widespread violence and intimidation.

According to the National Commission of Human Rights, 88 journalists have been murdered and more than 20 have disappeared in Mexico since 2000.

Drug gangs are believed to be behind much of the violence, but a recent report by press-freedom watchdog Article 19 noted that public officials were allegedly responsible for 60 percent of the 330 documented acts of aggression against journalists and media outlets in Mexico last year.

Crime in Sinaloa

The need for strong crime coverage is particularly pressing in Sinaloa, which was one of the five most violent states in Mexico last year, with a rate of 41 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI).

The northwestern state, which stretches from the Pacific Coast to the lawless Sierra Madre mountain range, is a hotbed of organized crime and home to the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug-trafficking organizations.

López, who has governed the state since January 2011, has long been dogged by accusations of corruption – a factor that could have influenced his decision to introduce the polemic legislation.

After the bill was passed, Mexican media outlet Sin Embargo noted that “Governor Mario López Valdez has been accused of links to organized crime. His police have been accused of tampering with evidence and framing innocent people. His administration has been accused of attacking journalists.”

In one such instance, in June 2013, Sinaloa newspaper Riodoce published a video of one of López’s bodyguards alleging that the governor had been collaborating closely with the Sinaloa Cartel to defeat its rivals and gain complete control of the state.

López has denied the allegations. But if he had not been pressured into backtracking this week, any reporter who dared to investigate such accusations in the future could well have wound up behind bars.