Monday, November 24, 2008

In Harm's Way: Covering Crime in Mexico.

Alfredo Jimenez Mota of El Imparcial in Hermosillo, missing since April 02, 2005; Dolores Guadalupe Garcia Escamilla, Crime reporter for Stereo 91 XHNOE in Nuevo Laredo, shot in the street, she died of her injuries on April 16, 2005;Raul Gibb Guerrero, editor of La Opinion, murdered on April 5, 2005, in Vera Cruz state.

In the raging war between drug cartels in Mexico, journalists are often the victim.

According to the L.A. Times, 45 journalists in Mexico have been murdered since 2000. Violence in the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Ciduad Juarez, where drug cartels compete over the illegal drug market in the United States, is particularly gruesome.

In Nuevo Laredo in 2005, a police chief was shot at least 35 times, hours after taking office. His predeccessor had also been the victim of gang violence. That summer all 700 officers in the city's police force were fired on corruption charges.
Some Mexican media outlets, have stopped covering gang-related murders and stopped including bylines with the stories they do print.

In 2006,gunman armed with grenades and rifles barged into the El Manana newspaper in Nuevo Laredo and killed one reporter and left another paralyzed. According to Media Life, an El Manana reporter said, "It's not just the narco-wars we can't cover, the problem is that drug trafficking, affects all aspects of life, so we have to be careful when we cover the police, government, business-- everything. It doesn't matter if you work for TV, newspaper or radio, we all practice self-censorship now. It is the only way to survive."

Violence in the border cities has given Americans a window view into the inherent danger of reporting crime in Mexico and some American editors have decided to pull their reporters out of Mexico.

Though Mexican Drug Cartels have yet to kill an American reporter,in July of 2007, San Antonio Express-News reporter, Mariano Castillo was pulled out of the Laredo bureau when a source told him a drug cartel was planning to kill a U.S. reporter working in Laredo.

According to the Express-News, Castillo said, "With each byline on a narco story, I get a little more paranoid when I'm in Nuevo Laredo. The cartels have lookouts ... on many street corners. I'm always checking my mirror and taking a different road if I think someone is following me."

The Dallas Morning News also temporarily removed their reporters from Mexico following the threat, according to the Express-News.

Should reporters self-censor for fear of violent reprisal? If so are newspapers serving the public, or allowing a dangerous situation to intensify?

An official at Amnesty International wrote, "nearly every newspaper and news outlet in northern Mexico has instituted a policy of self-censorship in order to protect their reporters. As such, criminals perpetrating violence are able to increase violent activities with little chance of being exposed by government officials or the press, thus contributing to further human rights abuses."

Is it important that our fellow reporters in Mexico know they have our support North of the border? Or would American editors be asking too much of their reporters by keeping them in Mexico, when there are threats of violence?

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