In a Feb. 16 meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that had been dedicated to U.S.-Colombia relations, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) demanded details on not just the Biden administration’s stance on Colombia, but on Mexico, too.
Cruz said he was “deeply concerned about deepening civil unrest in Mexico and the breakdown there of civil society.” Cruz read off a series of dire statistics and expressed concern for politicians and journalists being killed there.
Regarding journalists, Cruz said, “In 2020, more journalists were killed in Mexico than in any other country in the world.”
Cruz isn’t alone in his concern. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted similar concern on Feb. 22 for “the high number of journalists killed in Mexico this year,” as five Mexican journalists were killed in the first six weeks of the year.
We took a look at this statistic. Is Cruz right, and why are there so many press freedom violations in Mexico?
Data on journalists killed worldwide
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based independent nonprofit, tracks press freedom violations worldwide as part of its mission to defend journalists’ right to inform the public.
It has three decades of data on journalists and media workers killed worldwide. In 2020, 49 journalists were killed.
Independent investigators for the organization work to confirm whether that journalist was targeted for their work, Natalie Southwick — the organization’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program Coordinator — told PolitiFact Texas. The “unconfirmed motive” category in their data means the case has a potential link to journalism but the Committee is still investigating. There were 32 journalists whose deaths were confirmed to be tied to their jobs.
Of the 49 journalists killed worldwide in 2020, nine journalists were in Mexico — more than any other country, according to the organization.
Of the 32 journalists killed with a confirmed motive — such as death during a dangerous assignment or murder — Afghanistan and Mexico each saw five journalists killed. Four of these Mexican journalists were murdered and one was on a dangerous assignment.
Southwick said there are many reasons why a journalist might be targeted. Generally, the journalists most at risk are in smaller cities and towns who may be reporting on drug cartels or local government corruption. Increasingly, reporters covering environmental issues and immigration also are under threat.
“Not necessarily journalists who work for the big outlets in Mexico City or some of the other capitals, but people in smaller cities and towns where their faces are really well known, where everyone kind of knows each other. People know their schedules. And the mayor that you’re reporting on is someone who might live up the street from you,” Southwick said as an example.
These smaller city journalists often have access to the fewest resources to protect themselves, Southwick said. Targeting smaller city journalists isn’t specific to Mexico; there are similar patterns in Honduras and Brazil, for example.
It can be difficult to confirm that their deaths were tied to their work because people are afraid to go on the record to share what they know about these deaths, Southwick said.
The New York-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch noted in its 2022 World Report that the danger posed to journalists in Mexico is on par with war zones like Syria and Afghanistan for journalists.
“Authorities routinely fail to investigate crimes against journalists adequately, often preemptively ruling out their profession as a motive,” Human Rights Watch reported.
Cruz also said Mexico “alone counted for almost a third of the journalists killed” based on the Guardian article’s conclusion from the data. However, a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote that the Guardian had compared all journalists killed in Mexico (whose deaths had both confirmed and unconfirmed motives) to the overall number of journalists who died by a confirmed motive.
Only 16% of journalists’ killings with a confirmed motive — and 18% of all journalists killed — were in Mexico in 2020.
So Cruz was right that more journalists were slain in Mexico in 2020 than in any other country. And while the statistic Cruz cited was from 2020, press freedom is an ongoing issue for Mexican journalists.
“Looking broadly at the environment for the press, by far it’s the deadliest country in this hemisphere and one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press, and that’s been the case for several years running now,” Southwick said.
Cruz said in a Feb. 16 Foreign Relations committee meeting while also noting the deaths of politicians, “In 2020, more journalists were killed in Mexico than in any other country in the world.”
Data from the Committee to Protect Journalists backed this claim.
We rate this as True.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.