Poor Journalists, Dead Journalists
Precarious Working Conditions in a Thriving Industry
The Mexican media industry grows almost four times as fast as the country’s whole economy (8,6% compared to 2,5%). However, the contrast of this thriving sector and the precarious working conditions of media workers could not be more blatant. The gap between what the mostly super-rich media owners and mostly poor journalists perceive and live through is immense: the former are multi-millionaires and serve as complices of the political elite, while the latter dedicate their lives to the media, most literally, remain poor and have to fight for better life and working conditions to not become the next victims.
At the end of 2017, Reports Without Borders issued its annual report on aggressions against journalists and concluded that with 11 journalists murdered in 2017 Mexico is the most lethal country for reporters except for war-torn Syria and leaving even countries with extreme security problems, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines behind.
According to a report published by the Mexican branch of the international organization Article 19 one year before, in 2016, almost 50 percent of the aggressions against media workers come from public officials, mainly from members of the army and the federal police. In case of homicides, forced disappearances, tortures and threats, it is very unlikely that investigations against government officials will take place in Mexico, and even less probable they would be prosecuted and receive a court sentence punishing the perpetrator and indemnifying the victims.
One of the recent crimes that strongly affected the Mexican journalist’s community and the society at large, was the murder of the award-winning reporter and editor Javier Valdez in broad daylight . He was considered as one of the best experts in organized crime and the security crisis, which the country is living through since the war declared on drugs in 2006. After that homicide in May 2017, hundreds of reporters initiated a debate on how it is possible to improve their personal security when investigating topics important for the Mexican society. Among the conclusions from several working groups was to demand better working conditions from the media owners.
While analyzing the 42 media outlets selected by MOM Mexico, one thing emerged constantly: most of the owners are described as billionaires, magnates, powerful, influential. Their real wealth is mostly not known to the public, since it is mostly hidden in tax heavens or suspicious trust funds. Their names however, keep appearing in business magazines that follow the trails of the richest Mexicans.
On the Forbes’ annual list of wealthiest Mexicans in 2018, three owners or shareholders from the most influential media in the country range within the top 16: Carlos Slim Helú (UnoTV), Ricardo Salinas Pliego (TV Azteca) and Emilio Azcárraga Jean (Televisa).
Despite their wealth, the media owners in Mexico pay precarious salaries: in 2013, the blog Journalism in the Americas of the Knight Center from the University of Texas, found that journalism is one of the five worst paid jobs in Mexico with an average salary of approximately 7,973 pesos or 610 dollars per month. This salary has been decreasing in the last years: in March 2018, the human resources platform Indeed placed the average salary of a Mexican reporter at 4,560 pesos or 245 dollars per month, according to 835 job offerings reviewed. The average salary for a mexican worker with university education is officially estimated at 11,000 pesos or 615 dollars per month.
Among the most extreme cases is that a reporter from El Sol de Tlaxcala, a media outlet analyzed in this study and owned by one of the most important media groups (Organización Editorial Mexicana), said he was earning 5,000 pesos per month. Another reporter, which works in Tamaulipas, one of the most violent states in the country where self-censorship is a widely used means to survive the drug cartels, assured that his average pay is 500 pesos or 27 dollars for each text he contributes to two of the highest acclaimed online news-sites analyzed in this study.
With such a low salary, most of the journalists are forced into insecure working conditions: in many cases they must work on their investigations while using public transport in dangerous areas, without medical or life insurance and without adequate equipment: not even cell phones with GPS or camera.
In the most extreme cases, the Mexican reporters must look for other jobs to complement their precarious salaries: from cab drivers to working as surveillance for the drug cartels, which increases the danger of them becoming victims.
The last numbers published by journalist advocacy organizations indicate that in Mexico one reporter is being attacked every 26 hours. And the vulnerability of the journalists is increasing: this six-year term is more lethal than the previous one, and the previous one was more lethal than the one before. As a result, many state universities such as the Popular Autonomous University of the State of Puebla and the University of Morelia, State of Michoacán, do not offer journalism degrees anymore because of low inscription rates motivated by the low salaries and the high risk of this occupation.