The crusading host of Mexico’s top-rated national news radio program has been fired in a case that many fear is a blow to freedom of expression.
MVS Radio said Sunday that Carmen Aristegui was removed for challenging the firing of two reporters who had misused the company’s name by suggesting it was a sponsor of MexicoLeaks, a website meant to reveal leaked information on corruption in Mexico.
The company said in a statement that it could not accept “an ultimatum.”
Some accepted that Aristegui and her team had erred: “If the journalist did not consult on the alliance between MVS and the social platform Mexico Leaks, she made the first mistake,” said columnist Ricardo Rafael in the newspaper El Universal.
But there was widespread outrage because of the sharp tone used in the firings and the Mexican press’ history of subservience to governments through most of the 20th century. Aristegui’s program was a prominent example of how the news media was becoming more combative and independent.
“Carmen Aristegui is an indispensable voice in our public life,” said one of Mexico’s leading historians, Enrique Krauze, on his Twitter account. “Her departure from MVS seriously injures freedom of expression in Mexico.”
Hundreds of people protested Monday evening outside offices of MVS Radio, some chanting “Carmen! Carmen! Pena Out!” in reference to President Enrique Pena Nieto.
“Silencing Carmen is silencing the archipelago of freedom that she had built each morning between 6:45 and 10 a.m.” said political analyst Denise Dresser, who worked with Aristegui and resigned in solidarity. She said she thought the move was a reprisal from Pena Nieto’s government for what has become known as the “White House” scandal.
The firing came a few months after Aristegui’s team had embarrassed Pena Nieto by revealing his wife was purchasing a house with financing from a frequent government contractor. Pena Nieto and his wife have denied any wrongdoing.
That report was one of several blows to the president’s image, including criticism of its investigation in the disappearance and presumed death of 43 teachers’ school students, who were apparently seized by city police and turned over to a drug gang.
Investigations and critical commentary on Aristegui’s program had made it enormously popular and her ouster prompted a wave of protest. A top trend on Twitter in Mexico on Monday was a series of messages calling for support of the journalist.
Mexico’s government on Monday called Aristegui’s departure a “conflict between particular interests” and said that it “has respected the critical exercise and profession of journalism.” The government ministry said in a statement that the difference between Aristegui and MVS should be “resolved through dialogue.”
Aristegui continues to have a daily program on CNN’s Spanish-language service.
She said Monday she would turn to her lawyers fight the firing — the second time she had been ousted by the company.
She had been taken off the air in February 2011 after reporting rumors of heavy alcohol use by former President Felipe Calderon. The company argued that violated its code of ethics, but later allowed her to return.