Report Says Drug Violence Promoted Self-Censorship in Mexican News Media, Suppressed Press Freedom
Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico
An organization that monitors press freedom in countries around the world has reduced its rating for Mexico because of the extreme drug-related violence that has forced many reporters and writers to practice self-censorship. In its Freedom of the Press 2011 Survey Release, the independent organization Freedom House reduced the rating for Mexico's press to "not free" from earlier ratings of "partially free." Mexico joined a half dozen other countries that experienced deteriorating press freedom in the past year, including Egypt, Honduras, Thailand, Turkey, South Korea, and Ukraine.
The deteriorating press freedom in Mexico did not happen overnight. Organizations such as Reporters sans frontieres (RSF), the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have documented killings of reporters, editors, and publishers during the past several years SourceMex, April 18, 2007 and July 14, 2010.
The drug cartels have been brazen in their attacks on journalists and on journalistic institutions SourceMex, April 19, 2006. They have targeted radio, newspaper, and television reporters and editors and even prominent columnists such as Jesus Blancornelas of Semanario Zeta in Tijuana SourceMex, March 6, 2002.
Organized-crime groups have even launched attacks against newspaper offices, including those of El Siglo de Torreon in 2009, El Sur (Acapulco) in 2010, and El Norte (Monterrey) in 2011.
One newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, issued a public appeal to members of organized crime, asking for a truce after two photography interns were gunned down on a city street while leaving a shopping mall after lunch SourceMex, Sept. 22, 2010.
While threats against journalists by organized crime have been a professional hazard for at least a decade, the attacks intensified after President Felipe Calderon launched an intense campaign against drug traffickers at the end of 2006 SourceMex, Jan 24, 2007. Since then, the CPJ has documented more than 30 deaths of journalists.
Several organizations, including the IAPA and RSF, have labeled Mexico one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists SourceMex, Dec. 6, 2006 and Nov. 11, 2009. In a CPJ measure, released in April 2010, Mexico ranked as the ninth-most-dangerous country, but this was up from 11th in 2008 SourceMex, Aug. 11, 2010.
"Any mechanism that offers full protection [to journalists] represents a step toward justice," Catalina Botero, special rapporteur for freedom of expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR), said in August 2010. "If impunity is allowed to exist, then the message is clear that crime does not have any cost. There must be sentences with appropriate punishments for those who commit crimes against the press."
Recent reports from the UN and the IACHR said that the situation in Mexico has worsened in the last two years. "There is a very serious crisis in the protection of journalists," said Botero. "We are not even seeing any official information on efforts to prosecute and punish such aggressions."
The Mexican government has made some efforts to address the situation, even appointing special prosecutors to deal with the problem SourceMex, Feb. 15, 2006 and Feb. 24, 2010. The special prosecutors have been largely ineffective in stopping the attacks on journalists.
Drug cartels seek to manipulate media
But the Freedom House ratings consider much more than the killings and the threats to the lives of journalists. In many instances, newspapers and other media outlets have been forced to publish press releases from the drug traffickers as they would for any other source. In July 2010, drug traffickers held four journalists hostage, forcing their organizations to boost coverage aimed at rival drug-trafficking groups SourceMex, Aug. 11, 2010.
The self-censorship is not only related to fear of the drug cartels. …