Mexico president lambastes YouTube after company edits video revealing NYT journalist's number


  • World
  • Monday, 26 Feb 2024

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador delivers a speech to present a package of constitutional reforms, including on the judiciary, electoral system, salaries, and pensions, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico February 5, 2024. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized YouTube on Sunday night after the tech company removed the video of a news conference in which the leader revealed the private telephone number of the New York Times' Mexico bureau chief.

The platform said the video had violated their policies on harassment and cyberbullying. It later republished an edited version without the reporter's private information.

In response, Lopez Obrador accused the platform of censorship and said it was acting with an overbearing and authoritarian attitude.

The message was accompanied by a picture of the Statue of Liberty, which he said had become a "empty symbol." YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday, Lopez Obrador read aloud a letter from the Times requesting comment on a story reporters were preparing about a shelved U.S. government investigation into allegations that his allies met with and took millions of dollars from drug cartels after he took office in 2018.

Then he read the phone number of Times' bureau chief. The same day, Mexico's freedom of information body INAI said it was initiating an investigation into his revealing the number.

After the news conference, the Times issued a statement that called it "a troubling and unacceptable tactic from a world leader".

Making public a journalist's private phone number is particularly worrisome in Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters outside of war zones, especially for Mexican journalists investigating criminal gangs and widespread corruption.

Lopez Obrador frequently attacks the news media during his daily press conferences.

"She is slandering us and if she is very worried, then she should change her phone number," Lopez Obrador told reporters after the video was released. "Above the personal data protection law, there is the dignity of the president."

In the days that followed, social media users published the private numbers of one of Lopez Obrador's sons and both candidates for the country's June presidential race, Claudia Sheinbaum from the president's MORENA party and rival Xochitl Galvez.

Galvez said that she had gotten a flood of messages since her number was published - both critical and supporting - and that she would not change it.

MORENA's New York committee protested outside the Times' office in New York City on Sunday afternoon.

The New York Times story in question, published just after Lopez Obrador revealed the reporter's phone number, noted that the United States never opened a formal investigation and that officials ultimately shelved the inquiry.

Lopez Obrador denied all accusations and said it was "completely false."

That story came on the heels of other recent reporting from other media outlets about a different U.S. investigation into possible collusion between a drug cartel and Lopez Obrador associates to accept money for his 2006 presidential campaign in exchange for leniency.

Lopez Obrador has denied those accusations, calling them slander, and responded by saying the journalist who broke the story was a "mercenary in the service" of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which carried out the investigation.

Concerns about media safety have remained consistent throughout Lopez Obrador's presidency. In January, the theft of the personal data of hundreds of journalists in Mexico, including addresses and copies of voter ID cards and passports, raised fresh worries.

International free-speech organization Article 19 has documented 163 journalist murders in Mexico since 2000.

(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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