Ms Carmen Aristegui, a Mexican investigative journalist, has been announced as the winner of the International Press Institute (IPI) and International Media Support (IMS) 2023 IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero Award for her decades of fearless reporting on corruption despite targeted efforts to silence her.
She has vigorously pursued investigative journalism which has resulted in her being subjected to a range of abuses at the hands of the Mexican state and other powerful actors, including smear campaigns and politically motivated firings. Beginning in 2015, Carmen and her family were illegally targeted with Pegasus surveillance in one of the first known uses of the powerful spyware against journalists.
Despite working under threat in one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalism, she never wavered from her journalistic mission. As a result, her fortitude gained her widespread respect and inspired a generation as a prominent female investigative reporter in Mexico’s male-dominated media industry.
Carmen has spent nearly three decades breaking major stories on high-level corruption in Mexico, working mainly in radio and television, including CNN en Español. Her work is distinguished by an unflinching willingness to shine a critical light on some of Mexico’s most powerful institutions, despite the risks such reporting entails. Indeed, her journalism has repeatedly been a thorn in the side of those in power – frequently making her the target of reprisal attacks.
In 2015, she was fired from the radio broadcaster, MVS, shortly after she and her team reported on a dubious real-estate deal by the wife of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto and after she helped launch MexicoLeaks, a Wikileaks-style platform designed to help expose corruption. The firing was widely seen as politically motivated and a court later ruled it illegal. She had been dismissed once before from her position at MVS under pressure from the administration of former President Felipe Calderón, before being rehired after a public outcry.
Two years later, a group of Mexican human rights organizations published a report revealing she had been subject to surveillance using the powerful Pegasus spyware in 2015 and 2016. The surveillance also targeted her then 16-year-old son Emilio as well as two colleagues; her sister, a producer, and a former assistant were also believed to have been suspected targets.
After her second dismissal from MVS, carmen continued to broadcast on CNN en Español and founded a news outlet called Aristegui Noticias, where she continues to produce hard-hitting investigative coverage on Mexico’s governing elite. In response, she has been the target of repeated verbal attacks and attempted smears by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who regularly uses his press briefings to lash out at perceived enemies in the media and civil society.
Speaking on her courageous reporting, IPI Executive Director Frane Maroević said:
“Carmen Aristegui stands out for her courageous determination to speak truth to power, despite the risks that doing so carries in a country like Mexico, one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist. Throughout her career, she has done what the best investigative journalists do: acted as a watchdog on the powerful and giving a voice to the powerless.
“For this work, she has faced repeated attacks, harassment, and violations of her human rights. Yet time and time again she has responded to this harassment by doubling down on her commitment to critical journalism, refusing to be silenced. We’re proud to award her this year’s IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero award.”
On his part, IMS Executive Director Jesper Højberg said: “For over three decades, Carmen Aristegui has been on the forefront of bringing truthful information to the public in Mexico. Her dedication to journalism and persistence in her work serve as inspiration to journalists around the world, but in particular in Latin America, where freedom of the press and the safety of journalists is unfortunately under severe pressure. Throughout her work, information integrity has remained a central pillar. Not only does this lead to good journalism, it is also key to upholding democratic values. By exposing corruption and seeking accountability, Carmen Aristegui has courageously and relentlessly continued her reporting despite the threats she has faced, and it is difficult to overestimate the impact of her work. For that, Carmen Aristegui is a true Press Freedom Hero.”
This year’s Hero award recipients were selected by an international jury comprising of IPI; IMS; Siddharth Varadarajan, editor-in-chief of India’s The Wire, which received the 2021 Free Media Pioneer Award; Iryna Vidanava, co-founder and CEO of CityDog.io, a leading independent online media in Belarus; and José Zamora, chief communications and impact officer, Exile Content, and the son of imprisoned IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero José Rubén Zamora.
The IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero award will be presented along with the IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer award during a special ceremony scheduled to hold on May 25, 2023, in Vienna as part of IPI’s annual World Congress.