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Mexico Supreme Court decides in favor of freedom of expression and gives new victory to journalist Carmen Aristegui

This post was updated to clarify the authors of the book "La Casa Blanca de Peña Nieto, la historia que cimbró a un gobierno." Also, the Casa Blanca investigation took place over months, not years. The post also clarifies the ownership of the Casa Blanca.

A week after the Mexican National Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN, for its initials in Spanish) confirmed that the dismissal of journalist Carmen Aristegui in 2015 by the MVS group was illegal,  the First Chamber of that court granted an amparo to the journalist, which revoked the sentence of a Mexican federal court that convicted Aristegui of moral damage of businessman Joaquin Vargas Guajardo, president of the media group.

In Aristegui's second victory over MVS, the Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 20 that the court issue a new sentence, taking into account its guidelines on freedom of expression.

“The jurisprudential doctrine on this subject maintains that in the case of opinions that impact the public interest, it can be justified that freedom of expression prevails over the rights of the character of those involved, since the debate on these subjects must be uninhibited, robust and open,” the SCJN determined according to a release on its site.

Journalist Carmen Aristegui, who in recent days won two victories at the Mexican Supreme Court in disputes with the MVS group. (Photo: Tania Victoria/ Secretaría de Cultura CDMX)  

The Court establishes that expressions of opinion about public figures "may include vehement, caustic and scathing attacks," but notes that “utterly vexatious, offensive or shameful expressions that lead to personal disparagement or unjustified humiliation” are not covered by constitutional protection.

"The marvelous thing about this result is that analyzing precisely the previous criteria on the importance of freedom of expression and the evaluation and comparison that must be made between two competing rights, when talking about moral rights, which are honor and freedom of expression, it is very important to be able to analyze, to be able to reevaluate, what are the criteria that should prevail," said the lawyer Xavier Cortina, of the defense team of the journalist, in an interview with Aristegui Noticias.

The lawyer added that the job of a journalist is to use rigor to "analyze things, disseminate ideas and criteria, open an open, frank debate that allows people to have different ways of thinking and to form their own judgment. The limit is that it is not done with the purpose of harming, that it does not have that intention, and that it is not done through the use of false statements.”

The Supreme Court’s decision concerns a complaint filed by Vargas Guajardo against Aristegui for mentions in the prologue to the book "La Casa Blanca de Peña Nieto, la historia que cimbró a un gobierno" (The White House of Peña Nieto, the story that shook a government"). The book was written by Daniel Lizárraga, Rafael Cabrera, Irwing Huerta and Sebastián Barragán, on the basis of an investigation by the journalists while they worked at MVS.

In the prologue of the book, Aristegui writes that the businessman, "previously gallant and brave, succumbed to the pressures of power,” what she considered a “moral collapse,” as Aristegui Noticias cited.

Aristegui was fired by MVS and her radio program was removed from air on March 15, 2015 in what the journalist considers to be retaliation for the journalistic investigation "La Casa Blanca de Enrique Peña Nieto" ("The White House of Enrique Peña Nieto"), released in November 2014. Three days earlier, Lizárraga and Huerta had also been dismissed from the channel.

In the report – which was carried out over months and which was published in November 2014 – the MVS Noticias Special Investigations Unit revealed that then-President Peña Nieto lived in a house valued at US $7 million that was in the name of a company belonging to Grupo Higa, which had contracts with the State. After the revelation, the Presidency of the Republic said that the house was in the name of the real estate company due to a purchasing contract with the President's wife that was to be paid in installments, according to La Vanguardia. She later sold the house back to the company.

According to columnist Javier Tejado of the Mexican newspaper El Universal, MVS allegedly increased its official advertising revenue by 130 percent after Aristegui was fired. “There are indications that –like several independent journalists close to Carmen Aristegui denounced–  there would have been enough data to think that it was an act of official censorship well paid,” Tejado wrote.

On Feb. 13, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling that three judges of the Seventh Collegiate in Civil Affairs unanimously decided in June 2018 regarding the firing of the journalist. The court confirmed that the termination of Aristegui's contract with MVS was illegal and improper because there was no valid reason to break it, according to Aristegui Noticias.


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