MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s president confirmed rumors Friday that the federal government plans to shutter the country’s state-owned news agency Notimex.
“We no longer need a news agency, we have the mañanera,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at his daily morning press conference, called “la mañanera” (early riser) in reference to its 7 a.m. start time.
Rumor of the closure surfaced Thursday following a comment from Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal, who told reporters that a “media organization” would be eliminated alongside a rural development fund in the coming days.
Notimex workers have been on strike for over three years, citing ethical concerns and a hostile work environment following the appointment of Sanjuana Martínez, the first woman to lead the agency.
Martínez did not respond to several requests for comment.
The news was a letdown for the unionized Notimex workers who were hoping to find a solution with the government.
“We were surprised by the news because the president and his people at various times had said that they did not intend to close the agency,” said Adriana Urrea, secretary general of the Notimex workers’ union.
“The president’s decision is a significant blow to us,” she said. “We don’t want this. We want the agency to remain open.”
She and other union leaders will meet Monday with representatives from the Labor Secretariat and presidential spokesperson Jesús Ramírez Cuevas to discuss severance compensation. She estimates the government’s bill for workers' salaries, benefits and bonuses to be around 500 million pesos, or just under $28 million USD.
“We’re going to wait and see what they offer us on Monday, specifically the severance proposal they put on the table, and once we have that, we’ll know where to go next,” she said.
Striking Notimex journalists have described a hectic newsroom run by a domineering chief editor who looked for conspiracies around every corner and ordered reporters to print stories for which they did not have evidence to support.
“Martínez came in with her sword unsheathed,” said Carlos Torres, a unionized Notimex journalist of 17 years who manned the sit-in outside the agency’s shuttered offices in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán Friday. “She would fire people with little cause and have them escorted out of the building like criminals.”
Martínez has a few feathers in her cap as a journalist. An investigation into corruption in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s earned her both praise and death threats, and she is known for her biography of a former first lady.
But that’s only half the story, according to Andrew Paxman, a historian at the think tank CIDE who has published several books on important media figures in Mexican history. She is “widely considered among journalists as a conflictive colleague,” he said, adding that she has burned bridges at media giants like Milenio and Proceso in addition to the ashes she left at Notimex.
The agency, which was founded in 1968 to cover the Olympics in Mexico City, has always struggled with issues of partiality, Paxman said, but “it’s never been able to shake off its identity as a propaganda machine.”
Still, the lack of stories coming from Notimex — which began the strike in February 2020 and stopped reporting the news in June of that year — has already affected the media landscape in Mexico.
“The downside here is both the jobs lost and the implications for media piracy,” he said. “All but the best-funded papers and news sites long depended on Notimex for cheap content. Without it, they’re becoming increasingly inclined to copy and paste stories they find online.”
Journalists at other outlets confirmed this effect and called Notimex’s ruin a step backwards for press freedom in Mexico.
“The extinguishment of Notimex is a regression in terms of freedom of expression,” said Luis Eduardo Velázquez, chief editor of the independent news website Capital CDMX.
While he acknowledged the agency had a reputation for taking a “pro-government approach” that had “worsened under the current administration,” Velázquez said Notimex’s work ultimately strengthened democracy in Mexico.
“Let’s hope there is an opportunity to reform the agency and bring it up-to-date with the new era,” he added.
That is exactly what the government should do with Notimex, according to political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor.
“They could turn it into something else, something more useful,” he said. “For instance, an office to protect journalists from aggressions, but of course, the government is not interested in that because the press is the enemy.”
López Obrador has been criticized both at home and abroad for his rhetoric toward journalists.
Instead, Notimex’s closure appears to Bravo Regidor to be all part of the plan.
“Given what we know now about this government, it doesn’t sound far-fetched that this was meant to be like this all along, that they really wanted to dismantle the agency,” he said.
“Now that AMLO is saying we don’t need it, that we have the mañaneras, it goes full-circle. This is Lopez Obrador showing us once again that he does not waste any opportunity for turning information or communication into propaganda."
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