MEXICO CITY, March 22 (Reuters) -- A Mexican broadcast news journalist, fired after helping to reveal a conflict of interest scandal that embarrassed the country's president, said her former employer tried to suppress the report before she published it on her own website.
Carmen Aristegui, who this week said she believed the president's office had backed her March 15 dismissal, has become the focal point of a growing debate about whether freedom of expression is under attack under President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Last year, Aristegui's team at MVS news network revealed both first lady Angelica Rivera and Pena Nieto had bought or used homes owned by a major government contractor, Grupo Higa.
Subsequent reports in other media showed that Finance Minister Luis Videgaray also bought a house from Grupo Higa.
Aristegui, who was fired after MVS objected to her using the company's name in conjunction with a posting on a Wikileaks-style website, told Mexican news magazine Proceso that her employer had tried to persuade her to drop the original story about Rivera's luxury home.
"There was a request that this work was not put out on MVS. There was a really tense and complex situation between us. Not in an imposing or imperative tone, more an attempt for me to 'show understanding'," she said in Proceso's latest edition, published this weekend.
The report was published on Nov. 9 on her website Aristegui Noticias and was picked up widely in local and international media. A few days earlier, the government had abruptly canceled a multibillion-dollar rail contract awarded to a Chinese-led consortium that included Grupo Higa.
MVS on Sunday denied that it had tried to censor Aristegui, noting that from Nov. 10, she spent hours discussing the story known as the Casa Blanca scandal on her MVS radio show. By then, however, the report had become headline news in Mexico.
In a statement, MVS also pointed out that the Casa Blanca investigation had been carried out with its funding and resources.
Aristegui says she wants her old job back. But MVS, which has denied that the government tried to push Aristegui out, has dismissed the idea of bringing her back.
Last week, in response to the Aristegui dispute, Mexico's Interior Ministry said it was committed to a free and independent press.
Reporting by Mexico City Newsroom; Editing by Tom Brown