Independent media take the floor in their own defense

[ Photos: Heriberto Paredes ]

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When they took to the streets to support the struggle of dissident schoolteachers last September 1, more than twenty people were grabbed by the Mexico City riot police and jailed unjustly, including Estela Morales of Regeneración Radio, Pável Alejandro Primo of Multimedios Cronopios and Gustavo Ruiz Lizárraga of the SubVersiones Autonomous Communications Agency, who were arrested as they documented police abuses.

On September 11, these independent media collectives spoke at a press conference to tell what they experienced that day, denounce the alarming scenario of repression that exists in the city under Miguel Mancera, defend their comrades facing charges, and defend their journalism that has been denigrated both in the mainstream media and the 23rd misdemeanor courtroom of judge Fausto Favela Ayala; it’s no exaggeration to say that the independent media themselves are on trial.

In moderating the press conference, SubVersiones reporter Rafael Camacho pointed out that even though arbitrary detentions and irregularities have been documented in the cases, the judge continues to compound the excesses. “We presented videos showing the innocence of Gustavo Ruiz, but the judge disregarded them while accepting the statements of cops who failed to present evidence, photos, videos, or anything at all indicating Gustavo’s guilt… And furthermore, they’re still inventing charges.”

These videos were shown at the press conference. In the first one, photographer Gustavo was able to capture the attempt to arrest Rafael, and his voice can be heard berating the police: “Why are you taking him? Why are you taking him?” He was then able to film his own arrest and pass the video to his comrade, shouting, “I am Gustavo Ruiz Lizárraga, an independent photographer. They arrested me for filming.”

In the other video of the arrest, his voice is heard asking the names of other comrades being arrested. He insists: “I’m working, I’m working. This is my work. We’re press.” When they were supposedly on their way to the public prosecutor’s office, Gustavo also used his cell phone to tape the ride they were taken on all around the city, including their arrival at “something like an academy run by the Zorros of the riot police, located near the Canal de Chalco”.

Even though the recordings verified the irregularities in the case and Gustavo’s innocence, the judge presumed their guilt. At the press conference, Gustavo said: “Yesterday the judge decided not to order my release. I’m still being charged. Now I’ve been indicted.” He said that the police loaded him onto a pick-up truck where 7 people were already being detained, including Pável Alejandro, Gonzalo Amozurrutia and Luis Daniel Velázquez, with whom he shared a cell at the local jail and the South Prison.

“It looks like they want to inhibit the work of independent journalists and the right to freely protest,” he stated. He went on to say that the police had a key role in bringing them to a political trial: “They planted backpacks on us, failed to present us in court on time, rode us around to the quarters of the Zorro task force of the riot cops, did not allow us to talk to our lawyers in time, and transferred us to the South Prison several hours before the end of the 48-hour time limit that the public prosecutor had to define our situation, despite the fact that our bail had been covered.”

Estela Morales of Regeneración Radio stated that she was arrested and loaded onto a truck along with Silvia Colmenero and Alejandro Amado Frausto. “They rode us around before presenting us at the public prosecutor’s office four hours late.” She said they were threatened and asked questions about their families and other personal matters, which they did not answer. They planted bottles, cans, and cutters on them and then accused them of “possessing objects apt for attacking someone” and “insulting authorities.”

Although the arresting officers were two men, the officer who showed up at the public prosecutor’s office was a woman from the Los Cisnes group, who swore that Estela had threatened her several times with the cutter saying that she was press and that “I was going to be in deep shit”.

It’s important to note that Regeneración Radio has given extensive coverage to the teachers’ struggle. On their web page, a reader will find none of the lies or slanderous remarks repeated ad nauseam in the mainstream media against the teachers. On the contrary, their reporters invite the educators themselves to explain their motives for opposing the badly-named educational reform.

At the press conference, Estela Morales read a paper stating that Regeneración Radio has existed for 14 years and has had a web page on the internet for 8 years. The document says: “Some news media say that the independent media are ‘fictitious’ or ‘phantoms,’ but these attempts to run us down only show “the clear complicity of the police, public prosecutor, and other authorities. They need to create a theater act in complicity with the mainstream media to try to legitimate the use of force. Those of us who were arrested were all exercising our right to demonstrate and communicate.”

She stated that her collective had gone out to support an organization that defends free, public education. She said: “We don’t care whether the mainstream media recognize us or not… What we want is for the people to recognize us and find in us what they don’t find in the information void of the official press aligned with capitalist interests… We demand respect and an end to criminalization.”

Pável Primo Noriega is part of the Multimedios Cronopios crew that has given excellent coverage to dozens of social struggles, including that of the teachers. An outstanding report that they published last May was entitled “Why are the CNTE teachers in struggle?”

Pável could not be present at the press conference precisely because he was required to go to court to present proofs that day, but Andrea Sánchez read a document about their communications space that has existed for three years, and says, “We’re militants who use the independent media as a tool.” In reference to Pável’s arrest, she said: “He and the rest of us went out to march and support the struggle of the teachers’ union that had been going on for months in Mexico City to keep their working conditions from getting worse.

Pável and other comrades who work in independent media were arrested for marching, filming and photographing the struggle of a segment of the educational workers that has been singled out and smeared by mainstream media lies; the position of the independent media was to try to counteract this situation…”

In response to mainstream media accusations that the independent media don’t really practice journalism, the document says, in part: “Just in case the big, official communication companies think that a handful of children, youth, and old people want to uphold their standards of institutionalized journalism, let us make it clear that if being a journalist means sitting in front of a camera or a microphone and telling a string of lies, talking nonsense or spewing out disjointed pieces of reality as if we were dealing with abstract issues, then no, the independent media aren’t journalists…” On the other hand, “the independent media will keep on being what we are now, that instrument that the proletariat needs in order to communicate, that amplifier to make their voice louder…”

The moderator Rafael Camacho had a question for the free-lance reporters who show up to cover demonstrations: Why do we have to wear helmets as if we were getting ready to go into battle? He commented that “we only have each other” and urged others to show more solidarity with fellow reporters.

In turn, the lawyer of the Article 19 organization said that in the context of the Mexico City government’s pattern of criminalizing protest and free expression, the work of compiling and publishing or broadcasting information by independent media “is seen as a dangerous thing by the authorities.”

He criticized the sky-high bail of $126,000 pesos set for Gustavo Ruiz, the same amount also set for other comrades, for being “a danger to social peace.” He said that without any conclusive proof, Judge 23 Fausto Agustín Favela Ayala assumes that there is reason to consider Gustavo guilty of the misdemeanors of “insulting authority” and “possession of potentially lethal objects.” The crime of “insulting authority” is “something out of the Porfirian epoch” and should disappear, says Maldonado, because any police officer whatsoever can arbitrarily say that he feels “offended.”

The lawyer says that the judge’s job was to determine whether or not a crime had been committed, but his questions had nothing whatsoever to do with the alleged crime. All he was interested in was “calling into question the journalistic quality of SubVersiones.” He sated that after two hours of testimony and the failure of the police to present a shred of evidence, the only questions the judge asked were: What is SubVersiones’ address? What does SubVersiones do? Who belongs to SubVersiones?

What this corrupt judge fails to understand is that SubVersiones’ exceptional work is its best defense. On their web page we hear the voices of the teachers and other groups struggling to defend their own rights and to bring about in-depth changes in society.

Heriberto Paredes said that the members of SubVersiones are very unhappy with the Mexico City government over the arrests that violate peoples’ rights to protest and communication, and over all the irregularities committed in recent cases. He noted that in the events of December 1, June 10 and September 1, a pattern emerges of criminalizing youth and laying blame on particular segments of society.

He also rejected the treatment given to independent media by established journalists like Ulises Castellano, who commented on twitter that “any illiterate fool can be a journalist.” “We are not illiterate fools”, said Heriberto. “Not only is our work solid, but several of the media who scorn us have used our material, like the videos we did on Tierra Caliente.”

A document handed out at the press conference by SubVersiones underscores that when faced with an illegitimate, authoritarian state, what independent media want to do is “to break the media siege that prevails in the country and communicate in order to transform society, not to sell anything.” It says that “Social or human journalism projects are fundamental to the work of the independent media, those media whose perspective is to generate information in order to understand and transform reality into dignity and justice… Many well-known personalities in the field of journalism in Mexico are dedicated to defending and protecting people with power in our country: big businessmen, government leaders, organized crime. On the other hand, the emerging media that are free, independent, social, human or whatever you want to call them, seek alternatives to competitive working relations, recognizing each other and collaborating with each other, building more egalitarian relationships and free knowledge.”

The spokesperson for SubVersiones says that “We are going to keep on informing. We are creating a new generation of communicators and don’t need the backing of big consortiums.”

With regards to the trials, he said that “We think it’s a serious matter that the work of our comrade Gustavo is being disparaged because he has a verifiable work record in investigative journalism. We demand absolute freedom for him, Estela, Pável, and all the other comrades who are saddled with unjust charges.”

A video of the press conference can be seen here:

Consult the following independent media pages: