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Protecting the news

17 January 2010

We know that journalism is a dangerous profession in Mexico, what with newsmen and women kidnapped, beaten, tortured and murdered by narcotics traffickers (often overlooking the thugs hired to protect the interests of developers, mining operations and political organizations as well).  José Luis Romero, a police reporter for a Los Mochis radio station was only the latest.  He won’t be the last, but perhaps there is some hope that finally the federal government will give more protection to the fourth estate.

A bill, introduced by Senators Mario López Valdez, Fernando Jorge Castro and Carlos Lozano de la Torre, seeks to provide more protection for journalists from these kinds of dangers… and — less discussed — ameliorate the very real, everyday risks faced by those humble scribes, photographers, editors and even the weather-girl, every day. Gangsters are the least of it… riots, building collapses, hurricanes and truck accidents (a Mexican photographer was incinerated last year when a gas truck exploded).   What we tend to forget is that journalism is a dangerous profession everywhere, not just in Mexico.

The Senate Bill is something of a grab-bag of journalistic protections.  It includes things like a “shield law” protecting the rights of journalists to confidential information, but more importantly, would make intimidating a journalist a federal offense.  This probably will not protect a journalist from gangsters bent on intimidation or worse, but will make it easier to prosecute persons who do so.  The people who killed the two Triqui-language radio journalists in Oaxaca two years ago were known, but nothing ever came of the prosecution because the state authorities refused to act.  It might make it harder for local authorities to harrass jouralists, and — one hopes — avoid incidents like that in May 2008, when Federal Preventative Police threatened the staff at Cuilican’s El Debate.  One reporter was pulled into a police car, a gun pointed at his head and told “you don’t know who you’re fucking with; we’re not cops from here. Go complain with whomever you want.”

At least now, he will be a “cop from here.”  But there is more, and that provision may be the most important of all.  The bill will classify journalism as an inherently dangerous occupation — like truck driving or mining or constuction.  As such, IMSS, the Mexican Social Security system, will be obliged to write occupational safety regulations, and develop a protocol for dealing with on-the-job injuries as well as administering a disability insurance fund for the injured newshound and/or his/her survivors and dependents.

This, of course, means that the employers social security taxes will see a rise.  I haven’t seen the bill (and I’m not sure I’d understand it in all it’s full legalese) and am not sure how this will affect free-lancers (who — not being employees don’t have employer-paid IMSS coverage) but am pretty sure it doesn’t cover disability payments for keyboard-finger fatigue syndrome incurred by foreign commentators, even those of us with work permits.

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