Periodistas de a Pie

Speech by Daniela Pastrana during delivery of IPI Free Media Pioneer Award 2015

Por: Fernando SántillanPublicado: 28.03.2015

My country, Mexico, is a country where every twenty-six hours and aggression against a journalist is reported. Since the year two-thousand, a political transition year, eighty-two journalists have been murdered and seventeen more have disappeared.

It´s a country where fear and silence have settled across wide regions. A country considered in all the international reports as the most dangerous to exercise journalism.

The most recent report by Article 19, published this week, confirms what we already know: Half of all attacks against journalists in Mexico are carried out by agents of the state and a system of direct censorship or indirect censorship through official advertising, privileges, commerical agreements with media houses, or excessive media concentration.

But Mexico is also a country of brave journalists, who, in the last few years, have rebelled against this “fate” of being the pawns in a game that does not have transparent rules. These journalists have gone out to fight for the news, so that the people in Mexico and in the rest of the world know what is taking place in our country.

Because in Mexico it is not only journalists who have been killed, but doctors, teachers, engingeers, social campaigners, peasants, and human rights defenders, too.

Mexico as a country is an expert in deception.

It´s goverment signs and ratifies all international treaties, but complies eith none of them.

Under the myth of “social stability”, and the idea that in Mexico there was no dictatorship unlike in the rest of Latin America, a political party held the power for over seventy years preserverd the image of a democratic state, in spite of the fact that the whole world knew we had an authoritarian and repressive political system.

The democratic wave that arrived from the south led, in the year two-thousand, to a transition that gave hope to many.

But this transition did not fulfill the smallest of expectations. On the contrary, the new party in power led all Mexicans into a spiral of violence, whose end is not yet in sight.

Fear and death arrived at our doors, at our homes. And without knowing how, without being prepared, we journalists became war correspondents in our own land.

As we stood first in the line of fire, we fell victims to a strategy that used terror to hide information, to bury it in graves, and dissolve it with acid. It is a strategy whose result has been a tidal wave of death and pain, a strategy that has led to the disappearance of more than twenty-six thousand people and the deaths of over hundred thousand.

My country has turned into a clandestine cemetary, where torture and summary executions have become the norm, as have the plundering of rural land, inequality, environmental degradation, and the killing of women. It´s a country where corruption and impunity have spread like cancer and filtered into all of our institutions.

The return to power of the old hegemonic party, in two-thousand twelve, reactivated in the media the old instinct toward reverence and authoritarian practices. For instance, the director of a newspaper in the south of the country, who, with a pistol in hand, threatened his reporters and his news editor because “his candidate”, who was, by the way, a relative of the director, had lost de election.

Or a national network which fired the most solid research team in the whole country along with twenty journalists who collaborated with a critical radio host, because two of the journalists of the research team participated is an alliance of media that encouraged the citizenship to denounce acts of corruption and human rights violations.

But for the rest of the world, Mexico is a democracy.

A democracy in which, suddenly and without explanation or reason, Mexicans returned to the caves and began killing one another, cutting off one another’s heads, and hanging one another from bridges.

That’s not the way it is. In the complex Mexican landsape, the international community also has responsibilities. Many foreign governments and journalists only turn their eyes to Mexico when tragedies hits them in their faces – the Zapatista uprising in 1994, the serial killings of women in Ciudad Juarez, the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

The rest of the time, Mexico “is not news worthy” in the best of cases. In other cases, it is even celebrated, such as when a magazine named Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto “Mexico’s saviour”.

And forgeign governments, they, too, close their eyes, because they prefer to maintain economic agreements with a country that offers them advantanges: a country rich in natural resources, that gives them land and labour.

Because, it must be said, behind this brutal violence in which we are living in Mexico, the control of water, of electricity, of carbon, of iron, of gold, of corn, of Wood, and of many other resources that are vital for our people and our communities are being negotiated. And journalists and human rights defenders are paying with their bodies for the foolishness of trying to reveal this plunder to a world chooses to keep its eyes closed.

Many will say that in Mexico there is progress in the area of freedom of expression and that proof of this is that I am here today, receiving a prize, and that I am not in prison for saying this.

But in order for me to come here to receive this prize, eighty-two colleagues have had to die.

Not one. Not two. Not five. Eighty-two.

And it is very likely that while you are sitting here today, listening to me, a colleague is receiving threats like the one a journalist passed to me before I boarded the plane. It said: “Count your days because any one might be your last … they can’t protect your ass forever.”

Bravery and courage are not enough to dismantle this machine. To unmaks the invisible web of corruption that unites political, economic, and media power we need professional journalists, collaboration, and international pressure.

That is why this prize is so important.

Let me tell you about Periodistas de a Pie, we are a team of journalists that, at the beginning, were looking to grow professionally. However, reality caught up with us. Without planning it, we became an alarm center. We became psychologists and friends. We became a space against despair. The team´s work has gone far beyond reporting attacks. We seek to transform, with action, the respect for and trust in the media. To dignify the profession. To reconstruct a bridge with society in a country in which nearly all of journalism has decided to yield before power, has become accustomed to reproducing the words of politicians.

It has not been easy. We have to use our free time, to sacrifice family. To confront our fears and our limitations.

A few days ago, at a workshop in Morelos, a state that borders Mexico City, a colleague who had been kidnapped and threatened by an armed group in Feb. 2014 was telling us that his captors did not kill him because the protests against the kidnapping of Gregorio Jiménez, a journalist from Veracruz who was killed, were so strong. The confession moved us deeply. Because we understood that although the protests did not save Goyo’s life, they did save the lives of other colleagues.

This is the network Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot), to which I am proud, very proud, to belong.

But we are not heroes. We do what we have to do in a country that bleeds every day. We know that journalism is key to defeating the fear that paralises a society and to ensuring that hope lives on. And we do not have the right to give up now. At least, not while journalists are fighting these battles every day.

So this award is not only for those that form the network Periodistas de a Pie. This prize is for all journalists who are fighting a great battle in Mexico to disarm the machine of death, to break censorship, to reveal corruption and human rights violations. To tell the world what the world does not want to see.

This prize is for Regina Martínez, for Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, and for Moisés Sánchez, because their deaths provoked a rebellion of journalists against fear. It is for Armando Rodríguez and for all journalists who have been killed or disappeared and whose faces and voices we miss.

But above all, it is for the journalists who are out on the streets today, sticking up for a journalism that is useful for society. Because their energy and tenacity teach us lessons in commitment. A commitment that is accompanied by vulnerablity and, at times, loneliness.

For these journalists, Periodistas de a Pie has been a home. For us, they have been a light.

This prize is for the brave colleagues at Red de Periodistas Juarez and Red LibrePeriodismo in Chihuahua, which began to reproduce the collective work. It is for our colleagues at the weekly newspaper Zeta, at Riodoce, El Noroeste, and for all those media in the north that have been pioneers in the coverage of violence.

It´s for Nacho Carvajal, Rodrigo Soberanes, Félix Márquez, Norma Trujillo, Sayda Chiñas and all our colleagues from Veracruz – the champion among Mexican states in terms of attacks against the press, the state whose governor gives himself awards while his team threatens journalists.

It´s for Ángeles Mariscal, Isaín Mandujano, Sandra de los Santos, and those who, in Chiapas, are dealing with a new viceroy. It´s for Pedro Canché, a Mayan journalist imprisoned for the last six months for the crime of protesting against excessive water costs. It´s for Ernesto Aroche, who is a Quijote in the battle for transparency, and our colleagues at Lado B, in Puebla, and Págna 3, in Oaxaca.

It is a prize for the warriors journalists of Guerrero: Vania Pigeonutt, Margena de la O, Arturo de Dios, all those at Trinchera, at Jornada, at El Sur; it is for Chava Cisneros and Sergio Ferrer, forever in love with the Mountain, and for Jesús Benítez, the most daring journalist of the “Hot Land”.

It is a prize for Jade Ramírez Cuevas, guardian of all of us, and of the Jalisco collective. A prize for our colleagues in Morelos, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Sonora, Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, and for all of the photographers who don’t look away from the tragecy of Central American migration.

It is for Daniel Lizárraga, Irving Huerta, Rafael Cabrera y Sebastián Barragán, fired out of vengeance – there is no other way to see it – for investigating the million-dollar home of the president’s wife. And for Alejandra Xanic, Arturo Cano, and all those who fight for good journalism: Lydiette Carrión, Luis Guillermo Hernández, John Gibbler, Majo Siscar, Témoris Greko, Eileen Truax.

Without them and many others I cannot mention because it would take hours, the network would not be here, being awarded. Without them, who give us encouragement, who show us the glimpses of hope, the network would not have this moral force.

This prize is also for all of those mentors and allies who have generously shared their knowledge with us.

And, of course, this is a well-deserved prize for a crazy group of people who, almost eight years ago, decided to join forces and give extra time to do what we have to do in this broken country: fight for the journalism in which we believe and look for a way to help save lives. This group, brought together by a great journalist, Marcela Turait, is formed by fighters: Daniela Rea, Margarita Torres, Elia Baltazar, María Teresa Juárez, Verónica Díaz de León, Mónica González, Thelma Gómez, and our gender quotas, Alberto Nájar and Pepe Jiménez.

It also has a base of young journalists who push us, who force us to be better and not surrender: Celia Guerrero, Eduardo Sierra, Gonzalo Ortuño, Arturo Contreras, Agustín Gordillo, Lucía Vergara, Ana Cristina Ramos, Ximena Natera, Ignacio De Alba, Alejandra Ibarra, Thalía Guido, Luisa Cantú, Fernando Santíllán, Edith Victorino, Juan Carlos López y Norma González.

Each contribution, each little bit of each one of them, has allowed us to be giving this new meaning to journalism in Mexico.

I want to finish by quoting our dear mentor Monica González, when she received the UNESCO Guillermo Cano Prize: “If we allow investigative journalism to be extinguished, if we are only the trash collectors of society, then the citizens will not have maps to help them live and defend themselves against abuse. They will continue ignoring that they do have the right to pleasure and happiness.”

In the name of all the noble journalists in my country, of all those who go out every day to create those maps and who refuse to be the trash collectors of society, and all those fighting for critical news and dedicated to society, I thank you for this prize and ask you: Please, don´t leave us alone.

Thank you very much.

Pioner Media Award / IPI 2015. Myanmar, March 26th, 2015.

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