Mexican star journalist's firing sparks outrage

Mexico City (AFP) - The firing of one of Mexico's most famous journalists, who revealed the first lady's controversial mansion, sparked outrage Monday among supporters who consider her sacking an attack on press freedom.

Mexicans awoke without the familiar morning voice of broadcaster Carmen Aristegui after MVS Radio fired her late Sunday, following a public feud with her employer over the dismissal of two of her investigative reporters.

The top-rated, 51-year-old journalist became the main trending topic on Twitter in Mexico, with supporters calling on users to unfollow MVS's account.

Aristegui, who also works for CNN's Spanish-language channel, showed up Monday in front of MVS's Mexico City headquarters, where she was greeted by a dozen cheering supporters.

Vowing to fight back, she warned that her lawyers said her firing was wrong and a violation of freedom of speech.

Aristegui said her country is "seeing an authoritarian wind and an ominous sign of something that we have to avoid."

"This team of journalists is committed to fighting for freedom of speech," she said, adding that her firing appeared to have been planned well in advance, "with much resources and much power."

Denying it was curbing freedom of speech, MVS said it parted ways with Aristegui because it could not tolerate her "conditions and ultimatums" after she demanded her fired colleagues' reinstatement.

MVS said the two journalists had been fired for using the company's name without permission in their participation in MexicoLeaks, a website created by civic groups and other media outlets to receive leaked documents related to corruption.

- Lavish mansion -

Aristegui's investigative team revealed last year that President Enrique Pena Nieto's wife, former soap opera star Angelica Rivera, had bought a Mexico City mansion from a government contractor.

The story sparked allegations of conflict of interest, which the president denied, adding more headaches to Pena Nieto as he faced protests over the presumed massacre of 43 missing college students.

Aristegui said her two fired colleagues had been investigating Finance Minister Luis Videgaray's purchase of a house from the same government contractor as well as the alleged summary execution of gang suspects by soldiers.

Pena Nieto's spokesman could not be reached for comment about Aristegui's sacking.

Dario Ramirez, director of the media rights group Article 19, said the reasons behind Aristegui's dismissal were suspicious amid an "atmosphere of censorship."

"It was a machiavellian firing," Ramirez told AFP, saying that the move points to "displeasure from the government, with the complicity of a private company."

- Fans angry -

Aristegui's supporters swiftly voiced their discontent on social media, with the hashtag #EndefensadeAristegui2 (#InDefenseOfAristegui2).

"Carmen Aristegui is an essential voice in our public life. Her departure from MVS seriously damages freedom of speech in Mexico," leading historian Enrique Krauze wrote on Twitter.

Renowned political pundit Denise Dresser announced she would no longer appear on MVS, while actor Diego Luna lamented Aristegui's firing.

"What sadness that from tomorrow @AristeguiOline will not have a space in this country that demands plurality and voices that challenge us," Luna tweeted.

Leftist Senator Alejandro Encinas called it a "hard blow for the kind of journalism our country needs."

The radio station's website was briefly hacked on Saturday.

Aristegui had been fired once before by MVS in 2011, when she demanded a government reaction after a lawmaker accused then president Felipe Calderon, without proof, of having a drinking problem.

MVS said she had been fired for violating ethics, but she claimed that the presidency had applied pressure.