Translator’s note: At least four journalists have been murdered in Mexico this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In addition, journalist Salvador Adame of Michoacán remains disappeared. In response to this crisis of freedom of expression in Mexico, around 400 journalists gathered in Mexico City from June 14 to 16, 2017 to form #agendadeperiodistas. Convened by Horizontal digital media outlet with the support of more than 60 organizations and facilitated by Ciudadano Inteligente of Chile, this event comprised six working groups in a process of deliberation and action about how to defend journalists and freedom of expression in Mexico. In this summary of the #agendadeperioidstas meetings, which first appeared in Spanish on her Facebook page, Mexican journalist Marcela Turati describes what happened each day and explains why these activities are significant to a profession that, since 2000, has endured dozens of murders—the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 41 have been killed as the direct result of their job, though some estimate that number could be upwards of 100—and disappearances of journalists, and countless attacks and aggressions, many of them perpetrated by public officials and security forces. —Patrick Timmons
Day One – June 14, 2017
From today and for three days, several hundred journalists from across the country—joined by members of organizations specializing in journalists’ protection, academics, and citizens interested in strengthening this country’s press—will meet to consider the problems that confront us as a profession, define the future that we want, and discuss how we can achieve it.
There is a lot of expectation and uncertainty and fear but there’s also hope. The majority of colleagues with whom I have spoken want the discussions between us, facilitated by the nonprofit organization Ciudadano Inteligente of Chile, which works to strengthen democracy and reduce inequality in Latin America, to unite us, putting egos and differences to one side so that we can propose a common agenda, renew our strength, and attract new leaders by opening the door to more journalists and citizens who want to help defend freedom of expression in Mexico.
We have everything left still to build.
The success or failure of this dialogue in large part depends on what we construct in these days. More than 60 media outlets, organizations, international institutions, and academic centers have given their support to this experiment. They want us to leave stronger.
Each day at six in the evening the doors of the Postal Palace in Mexico City will be open to the public so that journalists can cover the conclusions of the two simultaneous meetings of working groups occurring each day. These six groups are: Impunity, Risks and Threats, Strengthening Organizations, Official Publicity, Transparency, Protective Mechanisms, and Citizen Outreach.
On Thursday, June 15 at 7 p.m. we will walk together from Bellas Artes [Palace of Fine Arts] to the Office of the Special Prosecutor to demand justice for Javier Valdez Cárdenas’s murder—the catalyst for this meeting—and all the murdered and disappeared Mexican journalists.
Wish us luck.
Day Two – June 15, 2017
Today we are going to end the working group sessions with a gathering at 7 p.m. in front of Bellas Artes and then a march to the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE)—a useless institution, by the way—where colleagues from Chihuahua, Guerrero, Veracruz, Sonora, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa will speak about their situations and where we will honor Javier Valdez Cárdenas one month on from his assassination, and also the many journalists in Mexico who have been killed or disappeared.
In the working groups on the first day, we considered the issue of impunity and how to improve journalism as a profession. The conversations were fascinating. For the first time, we discussed the conditions contributing to the situation we confront without invective, without piling it on, instead using a method and pursuing goals. The unanimous conclusion was: We need better organization, in networks, in interconnected collectives.
People of diverse expertise made up each working group. In mine, for example, we had an expert in the Inter-American System of Human Rights, two journalists who work for international organizations, foreign correspondents, an academic expert in impunity and femicide, an official from Mexico City’s Human Rights Office, a representative of Reporters without Borders, and reporters from Zacatecas, Veracruz, Sinaloa, and Mexico City.
In the other working group in the Palacio Postal, they were going over why emergency responses are so deficient and late in coming, and that there were journalists who are victims of these deficiencies. It was enriching listening to these points of view and from them constructing a common platform.
That’s what all the working groups were like. And that’s hopeful. Today’s agenda includes one of the most-requested working groups: professional solidarity and labor rights.
Day Three – June 16, 2017
On the second day of the #agendadeperiodistas working groups, we ended by shutting down the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (as I’ve mentioned before, the useless FEADLE). We sealed up the front of its building with banners and photos of our dead and disappeared colleagues. It took more than half an hour to read out the list of their names.
After that we listened to colleagues from the states. It began with fiery words from Francisco Sarabia, correspondent for RíoDoce, the newspaper co-founded by Javier Valdez Cárdenas. Then journalists spoke out from Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora, Veracruz, and Nuevo León, all of whom have been fenced in by death. There were many stories still to tell, but many journalists yielded their turn to speak to others because it was getting dark. The journalists from Tamaulipas did not pick up the microphone. If they had, they might have paid for it with their lives. “The worst is yet to come,” said a colleague from Culiacán, Francisco Cuamea Lizárraga, sending a shiver up the spine.
We carried an enormous, black and white Mexican flag: Black is the color our country offers us. One reporter put tape around her mouth to embody the censorship she endures. Others threw themselves to the ground while colleagues drew around them in gray the silhouette of their slow death. “Extra, extra, they are killing us,” went up the cry.
Elena Poniatowska, nicknamed “La Poni” (The Pony), told us that she had come as our big sister, an 87-year-old sister who still participates in the profession. She carried a photo of Regina Martínez [who was murdered in Veracruz in 2012], “my Regina,” she says, when she sees her face at these protests. Following her was Blanche Petrich, carrying a picture of Miroslava Breach, La Jornada’s correspondent murdered in March. The colleagues from Sonora carried a photo of Alfredo Jiménez Mota just like they always do. They have been looking for him since 2005.
From the microphone, colleagues spoke about and raged over the impotence impunity causes: They bared their souls, began to cry, demanding to be hugged. In their speeches, they relived the raw pain about the journalists with whom they had once worked but who paid with their lives. They asked why the others had died and not them, certain that the absence of justice will forever follow them, hang over them. “It’s going on nine years and we are still asking for justice,” said Gabriela Minjares, a reporter from Ciudad Juárez, referring to the murder of her friend and colleague, Armando Rodríguez, or “El Choco.”
There were candles. As if we were attending a wake for our profession. In the bar where we ended up—that always happens after a good protest—we breathed in the hope bringing us all together, for the possibility that some got to speak and others to listen. We asked each other: “How are you?” to colleagues who traveled to Mexico City escaping their reality for a few days. We followed with a “How are you doing after that latest scare you went through?” or “How are you dealing with being threatened?” or “Have you thought about leaving?”
The chats between colleagues always seemed to begin with “When they killed so and so…” with many filling in the name of their dead colleague, and turned to consider the difficulty of carrying that grief around. It’s going to seem strange, but we also laughed, quite a lot.
The journalists from the provinces—that’s what the capital’s journalists always call them—said they were surprised by our developed expertise in protesting, for the ease with which we barricaded the Special Prosecutor’s office and the way in which we made use of instruments to make the protest real. And we responded that we always pull off disorganized organization quite well, without a lot of logistics, everybody bringing something that will make the protest stand out. This time somebody brought the list with the name of all our victims. Somebody else borrowed the sound system and the truck. Nobody knows who brought the flag. Others clutched “Closed” signs to stick on the FEADLE offices. Somebody saw that yellow tape that says DANGER in a hardware store, and they also found some chalk. She brought those photos of our colleagues that she keeps for each march while he lent his voice to the chorus of protest slogans.
We always used to laugh about our inexperience as activists. Militancy makes us proud but bitter, too, because we know that the greater our activism the less we can produce journalism, and really we’d prefer to be investigating—that’s the thing journalists are supposed to do—not protesting, but the emergency that confronts us breaks our professional rules. It’s like Javier used to say: “Good journalism, the stuff that is brave, dignified, responsible, and honest doesn’t have a society to support it: It stands by itself.” But all that has gone by the wayside. And that’s exactly what we talked about in the working group I chose to be in this morning.
Last night, before we parted, we agreed that these conversations had made us better because they invited us to imagine the future we want, to design it in detail, to put it in color, to be concrete about the action before us. To restore the imagination in this country, the one in which we work, is not easy. Javier called it hell. But these conversations, the shouting in unison, and the hugs we gave each other are the link to the future we want (the one we are organizing for). These dialogues have raised the anchor and filled the sail, ready to navigate the dream barely begun.
We ended three intense days of dialogue by shouting our slogan, “No to Silence.” We had imagined what is possible, designing a different future to the present, where we continue to light candles for dead or disappeared colleagues, or where we have to censor ourselves to save our skin. One participant summarized it this way: “In the three days of the #agendadeperiodistas (in which almost 400 journalists took part from 22 states in the country) we could agree on common issues that we’ve argued about and pondered for decades.”
The first point is that we cannot do anything if we are not united as a profession. What should that structure look like? That’s something we still have to agree upon because it is undoubtedly the most polarizing of all the issues we face.
Thanks must go to Ciudadano Inteligente for facilitating these discussions. Their facilitators used an impeccable methodology that produces agreement and pathways of action. Thanks to Horizontal for proposing the idea, announcing the call for participants, and doing all the heavy lifting of coordination. Thanks to media outlets, organizations, and institutions that served as sponsors even though we were not sure what this meeting would produce.
Thanks to all the participants. In spite of the heat, the acoustics, and the exhausting 10-hour stretches of work, these were bright days that brought us together and gave us hope. It was uplifting to get to know each other, to listen to each other, to debate, to build together in spite of all our trajectories, ages, and different experiences.
Several colleagues who work in the provinces said they felt refreshed, recharged, and hopeful about the future. And with that magic sensation they returned home to their daily work of reporting the news.
In the group photo we took as our very last activity, it looks like we aren’t that many. But we were many, and many more besides those who appear in the photo. What now follows is to systematize the conclusions just produced by each of the working groups, defining and prioritizing our agenda before we create some legal structure. This agenda will show us the steps we need to take.
We have everything left still to build.