Carmen Aristegui, the award-winning Mexican journalist behind the exposure of numerous scandals involving the government and other holders of power, has lost her popular daily radio show in a dispute with the station's owners.
Mexicans who tuned in Monday morning to MVS Radio to hear Aristegui found instead a new host and routine recitation of the news. On the station's website, Aristegui's once-prominent photograph was gone.
Station managers posted a statement announcing the "termination" of MVS Radio's work relationship with Aristegui. The statement also was read during the time slot that once belonged to Aristegui.
Aristegui's often-thorny relationship with the station's management came to a head last week when managers, without consulting her, fired two key reporters from her investigative staff. The station said the two had, without permission, used the name of MVS in the launching of a new Internet initiative called Mexicoleaks dedicated to the probing of corruption.
Aristegui demanded the reinstatement of the reporters, who, among other stories in their careers, revealed possible conflicts of interest in real estate deals by President Enrique Peña Nieto, his wife and closest aides.
"MVS Radio does not accept Carmen Aristegui's ultimatum," the station said.
The loss of one of Mexico's most critical journalistic voices comes as revelations of corruption and killings by police and the army have roiled the country and plunged Peña Nieto into the worst crisis of his 27-month-old presidency.
Aristegui appeared on the sidewalk outside the radio station Monday morning, declaring that her dismissal was unfair and vowing to fight on. She was joined by several members of her staff, who had said they were barred from going into work.
"Let no one doubt, this is a battle for freedom," she said earlier.
Also gone from Monday's program was a weekly panel of news analysis by three highly critical commentators, a much listened-to feature.
Journalists, intellectuals and users of social media -- many of whom never exactly saw eye to eye with Aristegui -- expressed outrage Monday, with some vowing to follow Aristegui to any broadcaster where she might end up. She also has a prime-time talk show on CNN and writes a column in the Reforma newspaper.
"This is as if the Washington Post fired [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein in the 1970s," Sergio Aguayo, a political scientist with the Colegio de Mexico and visiting professor at Harvard, said by telephone from Boston. He was a member of the panel that appeared weekly on Aristegui's program. Like many, he believes the government pressured MVS to find a way to get rid of Aristegui.
"The government of the republic has respected the critical and professional exercise of journalism and will continue to do so," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The dispute between MVS and Aristegui, the ministry said, should be resolved through dialogue.
When Aristegui was briefly fired from MVS in 2012 after repeating unsubstantiated claims that then-President Felipe Calderon had a serious drinking problem, a studio executive acknowledged he had been pressured by Calderon's staff.
"Carmen Aristegui is an indispensable voice in our public life," preeminent historian Enrique Krauze said via Twitter. "Her departure from MVS seriously threatens the freedom of expression in Mexico."
"It is a great pride to be fired by MVS for being part of Carmen Aristegui's team," said her former information director, Salvador Camarena.
Even the MVS ombudsman lamented the turn of events. Gabriel Sosa Plata agreed it was improper for the two reporters to use the MVS name without permission, but said firing them was a "disproportionate" response.
"This is a sad [moment] for journalism and the freedom of expression," he said via his Twitter account after Aristegui was dismissed. "As much as we called for dialogue, obstinacy prevailed."