Lawmakers in Mexico’s Sinaloa state are backpedaling on a law restricting press coverage of crime scenes after media groups around the country decried it as a “gag order.”
The Congress of Sinaloa, a state in Mexico’s northwest with a heavy drug cartel presence, quietly passed a provision Wednesday known as Article 51, which effectively bars journalists from crime scenes and prohibits them from obtaining “information related to public safety or the procurement of justice.” Under the law, journalists’ only access to crime-related information would be through press releases and statements by authorities.
Journalists and media organizations across the country lashed out against the law and staged protests late Friday in solidarity with the Sinaloa press. Rafael Cano Franco, the president of the National Forum of Journalists and Communicators, said the law was meant to mask government inefficiency and undermine transparency in Sinaloa. “We are not living in a totalitarian country; we are living in a free and democratic country,” he told Mexican newspaper El Universal.
The state governor and lawmakers denied that the law was meant to curtail freedom of the press. Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez, who proposed the bill, said the intent was “to provide conditions to guarantee a free and safe exercise of the profession.”
The outcry eventually prompted members of Congress to reconsider. Jesus Enrique Hernandez, head of the Sinaloa Congress’ political coordination committee, said Friday that the legislature would hold a special session on Aug. 21 to vote on repealing Article 51, and that he expected Congress to do so.
Hernandez also said the legislature passed the bill only because members did not read the text thoroughly amid the large stack of bills they had to deal with last week.
Sinaloa, along with the nearby Chihuahua and Durango states, makes up the so-called Golden Triangle, a hotbed of drug production and trafficking. The Sinaloa cartel, which was headed by the notorious kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman until Mexican authorities captured him in February, is one of the country’s largest and most formidable drug trafficking organizations.
Drug-related violence stemming from turf wars among gangs and the Mexican military’s offensive on cartels has also made the country one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders ranked Mexico 152 out of 180 in its 2014 Press Freedom Index, noting that at least 88 journalists were murdered between 2000 and 2013.