A publication of the World Editors Forum


Sun - 17.12.2017

Reporting on drug wars: the challenges for Mexican journalists

Reporting on drug wars: the challenges for Mexican journalists

There are times when it seems like a movie.

"Tell as few people as possible where you are staying and what your plans are.
Have a plan for how you will be getting out of the area if something goes wrong, and review it hourly. Know the roads in and out of the places you go to.
You must be extraordinarily deceptive. Arrive early for appointments to see if there are suspicious people lurking about the location.
Be as inconspicuous as possible, almost chameleon-like. Nothing says reporter like a polo shirt, baseball cap, khaki pants, and a press pass dangling from a lanyard around your neck. Try to blend in with the population."

This is just some of the advice that Mike O'Connor, a veteran war correspondent and representative in Mexico for the Committee to Protect Journalists, gave to reporters going into Mexico.

Even it sometimes resembles the stuff we see in films, reporting on drug wars and other narcotics-related violence in Mexico is a war in itself, as Joseph J. Kolb reported on Editor & Publisher.

"The dwindling freedom of press in Mexico is compounded on two fronts by the allegations of widespread government corruption and ties to the cartels as well as the profound self-censorship imposed on the media through intimidation and murder", Kolb wrote.

As E&P reported, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission puts the number of murdered journalists at 66 between 2005 and 2010. An additional 12 reporters have disappeared.

Because of the violence and the risks reporters run, many locally and regionally Mexican papers are abandoning coverage on drug trafficking, as shown by a recent study by MEPI, an investigative journalism project which has quantified how small this coverage is.

In an interview on NPR's "On the Media", Ana Arana, the reporter who directed the project, pointed out findings that revealed that more than half of violence and executions stories did not appear in local papers and in some places like Nuevo Laredo, which is one of the most violent areas, there was no coverage at all.

"In some places the traffickers have meetings with them (the reporters) where they give them directives. In other places they send messages and they call them up. In other places they can't cover anything. Some newspapers in some areas have come up with tacit agreements where everybody knows what they should write and what they shouldn't write", Arana said.

She also said that national media try to do a better coverage but often they don't have local correspondents and they faced the same limitations on covering in same areas.

Bloggers are also trying to fill the gap, as El Blog del Narco does, as well as Facebook and YouTube, she said. "The problem with this - she added - is that nobody's really controlling for what reason are you showing this. And so, there's a lot of suspicion here that is being used by people linked to the traffickers or government forces".

O'Connor told Kolb that the lack of critical reporting - of which, he argued, the American press is also guilty - is contributing to the Mexican government losing its grip on the country.

Some papers do still try to keep attention focused on the subject, such as the Washington Post with its project "Mexico at war. Journey Along the Border", which provides an in-depth look at the most dangerous border sites, including video reporting by Travis Fox, who reported the tough situation of the border from El Paso/Ciudad Juarez to San Diego/Tijuana.

Those media that decide to continue with drug war coverage are facing hard times, as they have to decide if a story worth a life.

For American journalists, being told to "tone down" their coverage is often taken as a direct challenge to push harder, because the crux of the story may be on the verge of being revealed. But in Mexico, reporters often have to think twice whether the pressure exerted on a story is worth their life, Kolb's article said.

As E&P article reported, El Diario de Juarez had two staff members murdered in the past three years: Armando Rodriguez Carreon, a veteran crime reported who had a distinguished career of providing compelling narrative copy of gang-related murder in and around Juarez, who was shot in 2008 and, in 2010, Luis Carlos Santiago, a 21-year-old photographer shot dead by gunmen in a passing vehicle.

Neither Rodriguez Carreon's or Santiago's killers have been arrested, nor have any other assailants of reporters - noted the article.

A wide spread of self-censorship throughout the Mexican press is reported from most parts, as the Committee to Protect Journalists affirmed that "Organized crime groups exerted fierce pressure on the Mexican press as their control spread across vast regions and nearly every aspect of society. Pervasive self-censorship by news media in areas under drug traffickers' influence was a devastating consequence of violence and intimidation", and Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times explained how 'narco-censorship' became the new buzz word in the Mexican news industry, as the sole way to stay alive for journalists.

Some reporters have even decided to cross the border and seek asylum from US authorities, such as Emilio Gutierrez Soto, who left the country in June 2008 after his home was raided by Mexican soldiers (he had written stories critical of the military) and Jorge Luis Aguirre, who runs the Internet news site LaPolaka.com and has lived in exile for the past two years in El Paso, Texas, as AFP (via EJC) reported.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has recently said that out of sixty-six journalists and other media workers killed world-wide because of their professional activities in 2010, Mexico and Pakistan emerged ad the most deadly countries.
"Killing journalists is the ultimate form of censorship, and a direct attack on society as a whole. Yet far too often, the perpetrators of these crimes never face prosecution," said Christoph Riess, CEO of WAN-IFRA.

Sources: Editor & Publisher, On the Media, AFP (via EJC), Washington Post, Committee to Protect Journalists



Federica Cherubini


2011-03-08 16:24

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

© 2015 WAN-IFRA - World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Footer Navigation