“No se mata la verdad matando periodistas,” or “Killing journalists doesn’t kill the truth," is the title of an initiative, now seeking crowdfunding, in which 126 Mexican journalists will each recount the story of one of their 126 counterparts who has “disappeared” or been killed amidst a dozen years of armed conflict between rival drug trafficking cartels and government forces.
The “Drug War,” declared in 2006, has submerged the country in an unprecedented wave of bloodshed, affecting millions and claiming tens of thousands of lives.
Among those worst-affected by targeted killings and other brutal crime have been the country’s journalists and photographers, particularly those who cover the police force and government, as well as bloggers, editors, media publishers, and anyone who makes it his or her business to spread the truth about the violence that is boiling within Mexico.
One hundred and twenty six such “information workers” have gone missing or been killed over the past 12 years, according to Nuestra Aparente Rendición (NAR) – which translates as Our Apparent Surrender – a civil society organization dedicated to raising awareness about and providing support to victims and their families, which is behind the “Killing journalists doesn’t kill the truth” initiative.
The Mexican government’s Human Rights Commission has reached the same count, but differs slightly in its pronouncement, claiming that there have been 126 attacks on journalists or media outlets since 2000, according to a report this week by the Associated Press. Impunity reigns for the perpetrators: only 24 cases have resulted in prosecution thus far, and only two in conviction, according to the Commission.
This past Monday, the United States’ Deputy Secretary of State William Burns expressed that the administration of Barack Obama is “deeply concerned” about acts of violence and intimidation intended to suppress the free flow of information.”
“We stand with the journalists who risk their lives to inform the public,” Burns said during a visit to Mexico, reported Bloomberg.
The senior US diplomat’s comments came the day after three armed, masked men had broken into the Monterrey office of El Norte, one of Mexico’s best-known newspapers, and one of the few regional papers that has refused to curb its coverage of drug-related crime and government corruption. The masked intruders drenched the office’s reception with gasoline and set fire to it, killing none of the employees who were present, but causing damage to the building.
This was the third attack on El Norte in the past month. On July 10, gunmen pelted two of its other offices with grenades and gunfire.
Meanwhile, on the same Sunday as the arson attack in Monterrey, the Nuevo Laredo offices of daily newspaper El Mañana were firebombed, according to the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade.
Such intimidation tactics have forced many journalists, editors and news publishers into self-censorship and submission. “Sometimes it is not necessarily self-censorship, but a simple intelligent act of survival,” explained Lydia Cacho, a journalist for www.sinempargo.mx, in a short film released in March entitled “Silencio Forzado,” or “Forced Silence,” a 25-minute documentary, made by ARTICLE 19, in which surviving journalists and the loved ones of those deceased recount violence that they have witnessed and experienced, and the silencing effect it has had on the media in Mexico (below, with English subtitles):
“Killing journalists doesn’t kill the truth” is one attempt to break the forced silence.
Initially conceived as a digital-only endeavour to be hosted in a dedicated section of the NAR website, the organisation decided that it would reach a wider audience and have a more lasting effect if it could “transcend the virtual” and create a material artifact that would testify to the violence and intimidation haunting those who try to tell the truth about what is happening in Mexico. Hence the plan to publish a book, with the goal of reaching “as many hands and eyes as possible.”
“We think it’s necessary to resurrect from oblivion the 126 men and women who, to the best of their ability, practiced a profession that is vital to the consolidation of the democratic society that Mexico should be,” explains NAR on the Goteo.org profile.
The organisation, founded in 2010 and based in Cataluña, Spain, has raised 3,332 euros in pledges from 110 contributors so far. If it reaches its funding goal of around 15,000 euros in the next 13 days, it will print hundreds of copies of the printed book and distribute them for free in November among the visitors to the journalist section of the Guadalajara Book Fair. They will also send copies to supporters of the project who have pledged more than $21. Pledges can be made anonymously, and if the goal is not reached, no donations will be collected.
This past July the PRI party, which had ruled Mexico for the 71 years until 2000, once again claimed victory, with Enrique Peña Nieto winning the presidential election in a landslide that was at once widely predicted and widely criticized. The organisers say that the book is intended to serve as a source of “pressure” on the new government, which will assume power over Mexico in December 2012.
Image courtesy of the Knight Foundation via Flickr Creative Commons