Constant threats and reprisals have created a self-imposed muzzle
on Mexican news outlets when it comes to stories about organized crime in the
northern Mexican cities.
The constant threats of retaliation, attacks and manipulation of the media by organized crime have created an environment similar to working in a designated war zone, said Celeste Gonzalez, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona.
Gonzalez said the only difference between reporting in Mexico and a designated war zone is the lack of rules of engagement and operational procedures.
"Journalists and newsroom editors are making up the rules as they go along in order to stay alive," said Gonzalez, who is researching the current conditions of journalists in Mexico. "Journalists in Mexico are experiencing unprecedented levels of violence and repression, and it appears that in the run-up to the presidential election, the violence in various parts of the country and the repression against journalists and human rights workers has intensified."
In the past month, two Tamaulipas newspapers were strafed by gunfire, while three Veracruz journalists were executed -- presumably for their work.
One of the shootings, May 7 in Reynosa, targeted the offices of Hora Cero. No injuries were reported, but just four days later, El Manana de Nuevo Laredo was shot at by another group of unknown gunmen.
Soon after the attack, El Manana ran an editorial stating it would stop publishing stories about organized crime.
El Manana is run by Ninfa Deandar, while Hora Cero is run by her relative, Heriberto Deandar Robinson. It remains unclear if the attack at both publications was targeted at a specific news article, the newspapers or the Deandar family.
On May 18, Mexican authorities in the state of Sonora found the body of Marco Antonio Avila Garcia, a crime reporter for El Regional de Sonora. The find comes just one day after the journalist had been kidnapped by gunmen at a local carwash in Ciudad Obregon, according to a news release.
In the state of Veracruz, Proceso magazine correspondent Regina Martinez was strangled to death April 28 inside her home in the state capital of Xalapa. Just days later, three other journalists -- Gabriel Huge, Guillermo Luna Varela and Esteban Rodriguez -- were tortured and killed in the Boca del Rio area.
Since 2006, 30 journalists have been killed in Mexico, according to Reporters Without Borders.
It has become commonplace for journalists to receive threatening calls or worse from presumed members of organized crime who tell journalists what to report, what not to report and sometimes how to report it, Gonzalez said.
The pressure from members of organized crime, which could include cartel members as much as corrupt government officials, seriously impedes the ability of journalists to inform the public, she said.
"Obviously this has created a horrible situation in which journalists are working and, in some cases, risking their lives," the professor said. "All journalists in Mexico work under a presumed threat, although those who are brave enough to cover organized crime are the most at risk."
The quality of investigative journalism especially on the local level has declined sharply over the past six years. In some cases, newspapers have made the decision to not cover organized crime at all. In other cases, news organizations publish only stories with official (government) sources, which leads to information from one perspective only -- the government's.
One of the exceptions is El Diaro de Juarez, which continues to press public officials. But the newspaper has paid a heavy price. Two of its staff have been slain in the past four years.
Because of the increasing level of violence and repression against primarily local journalists working in Mexico, there are now numerous cases of journalists seeking asylum in other countries, Gonzalez said.
"Two years ago, the head of one of Mexico's leading news organizations -- Grupo Reforma -- Alejandro Junco de la Vega moved members of his family out of the country because of the level of intimidation" they were subjected to.
The risk was very true for Matamoros reporter Cecilio Cortez, who was kidnapped, beaten and robbed of his equipment on the morning of Nov. 2, 2011, as he walked home from work. He was released later that day, but the journalist says he still doesn't know the exact reasons for the kidnapping.
"This is the type of situation where if it isn't talked about, no one is going to known about it," Cortez said in Spanish.
After the ordeal, Cortez sought political asylum in the U.S. and is in the middle of that process.
"In some areas of Mexico, such as Nuevo Laredo and what is known as the 'Frontera Chica' south of the Texas-Tamaulipas, border, it is almost impossible for journalists to cover daily news," Gonzalez said.
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