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Prosecutors drop criminal libel charges against Times reporters

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Prosecutors drop criminal libel charges against Times reporters 10/20/97 MEXICO--Mexican prosecutors in early October dropped defamation charges against two New…

Prosecutors drop criminal libel charges against Times reporters

10/20/97

MEXICO–Mexican prosecutors in early October dropped defamation charges against two New York Times reporters who had been sued by two state officials for a story published in February.

The Mexico Attorney General’s office announced that it would not prosecute Sam Dillon, the Times Mexico bureau chief, and Craig Pyes, a Times reporter based in New York, for their story that linked two Mexican governors with drug smugglers.

Although Mexico’s defamation laws make libel a crime punishable by up to 11 months in jail, the prosecutors decided not to pursue charges because the article was published in the United States, where defamation is not a criminal offense, they said. However, a number of U.S. states still have criminal libel laws on their books.

The Times called the decision “a clear vindication” of the newspaper.

The story quoted anonymous U.S. officials who said two Mexican governors, Manlio Fabio Beltrones Rivera of Sonora and Jorge Carrillo Olea of Morelos, have been cooperating with Mexican druglords. Both men denied the accusations.

In late April, the governors filed defamation complaints against the two reporters, saying that the story was filled with inaccurate information.

Under Mexico’s libel laws, which were drafted in 1917, truth is not an admissible defense. According to Columbia Journalism Review, the laws were written to protect public officials, who are given a higher level of protection than private citizens.

Despite several democratic reforms during Zedillo’s administration, a Mexican group called Causa Ciudadana, or Citizen Cause, notes that 74 Mexican journalists have been sued since 1994, when Zedillo took office.

The Associated Press in January quoted Zedillo telling ambassadors and consuls that Mexico should hold the foreign press accountable for the country’s international image problem.

“They frequently want to stereotype us and present us at times ridiculously, such as ‘the last dictatorship’ and the last totalitarian regime dating from the early part of the century,” he said. “This is the tone, the content and the stereotype that we frequently discover in the foreign press.”