Mathew Charles is a journalist and academic at Bournemouth University in the UK. He is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University. His research focuses on anti-press violence in Latin America.
Javier Valdez Cardenas, an award-winning journalist and one of Mexico's best-known reporters, was killed this week. He was shot dead close to the offices of the local weekly he founded in 2003, Riodoce, in the state of Sinaloa. Mr. Valdez was also a correspondent for the national daily, La Jornada. He is one of several journalists to be killed in Mexico this year.
When I spoke to Mr. Valdez in 2012, I asked him what methods he used for reporting organized crime. "Well, you cover your ass! That's how," he replied.
"You have to work out who has the power. Who is killing people in the street? Who distributes the drugs? What accomplices do they have? You need this information in order to know what you're going to publish and, more importantly, to know what not to publish."
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says 41 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, but Mexican organizations put the figure much higher. The press freedom advocacy group Article 19 counts 104 killings since 2000.
The drug cartels attempt to take control of local power structures, and anyone who dares to expose or question that is at great risk. Statistics from the CPJ show that local reporters account for 95 per cent of all journalists killed in Mexico.
"The narcos will replace the mayor, the police and the local army commander," one journalist told me. "And they do not want the press reporting that."
Mr. Valdez admitted to being scared, but he always remained defiant. After his colleague, Miroslava Breach was killed in Chihuahua two months ago, he said: "Let them kill us all, if that is the death sentence for reporting this hell. No to silence."
Mr. Valdez's death prompted Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to say on Twitter that he had ordered an "investigation of this outrageous crime". The interior minister also promised to act and said he would raise the issue of crimes against journalists with the country's 31 state governors. However, the administration's intervention sparked ridicule from some press freedom groups, who say the government's actions are too little, too late. They question why, after five years in office, the government has not taken a bigger stance on this issue before.
The editor of Riodoce, Ismael Bojorquez, told an Al Jazeera documentary: "If something happens to you, the state will never find who did it. Much less punish them. They won't even investigate it."
A special prosecutor to investigate attacks on Mexico's press has been in place for more than 10 years. But the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression has achieved only three convictions since its inception. The CPJ says the impunity rate for crimes against journalists in Mexico is 86 per cent.
The Federal Protection Mechanism of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was also founded to protect those faced with imminent danger. According to the CPJ, 174 journalists are currently provided with some form of official protection, which can include anything from a simple panic button to armed police guards or, in the worst cases, evacuation from Mexico. However, many journalists say the mechanism lacks the funding or the expertise it needs.
There is no doubt that Mexico's legal system is dysfunctional and overstretched. Justice is blocked by delay, by ineptitude, and by a lack of resources. Most crimes against journalists are investigated at a local level and are therefore more susceptible to corruption. Federal investigations are rare, but also offer no guarantees.
The Mexican author, Jorge C. Castanada, famously once said: "When a journalist is murdered in Latin America, a bit of democracy dies with him," and in Mexico, there are serious questions about the capacity of its democratic institutions to act in the face of increasing violence against the press.
But this is not just a Mexican problem. The international community must do more to pressure Mexican authorities into reform. It is not enough to condemn the killing of journalists, the high rate of impunity must also be questioned.
The administration of Pena Nieto has lacked the commitment and the authority to enforce the law and bring those guilty of crimes against journalists to justice. With only a year left in office, the President risks leaving a legacy of indifference.