Drugs cartels are silencing the Mexican press. More and more Mexican newspapers are deciding to stop reporting crime news. And drugs cartels are increasingly succeeding in influencing the editorial line of the Mexican media. Journalists, bloggers and editors who criticise the activities of organised crime groups face death, kidnapping, decapitation or mutilation.
by Pablo Gámez
The Mexican daily, El Zócalo de Saltillo, is the latest newspaper to stop reporting any news about organised crime. The decision comes three days after members of a criminal organisation posted signs in various towns in the state of Coahuila threatening the Zócalo news group. In an editorial, the daily wrote: “since there are no guarantees and no safety to practise journalism freely, the Editorial Council of Zócalo has decided, as of Monday, to stop publishing information related to organised crime”.
The tone of the announcement is dramatic, reflecting the stark realities facing Mexican reporters. “Our commitment is to increase our efforts to improve the quality of information and to remain objective and impartial. The decision to stop reporting on organised crime is based on our obligation to ensure the integrity and safety of more than one thousand employees, their families and ourselves.”
In its latest biannual report, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) revealed that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the American hemisphere for journalists. According to the Association, there have been 127 attacks on reporters in the past 12 years, and the violence continues. IAPA fears that that the few advances made at the end of President Felipe Calderón’s term will soon be forgotten. The IAPA’s vice president in Mexico, Armando Castilla, notes that President Enrique Peña Nieto has raised questions about the legislation introduced in 2012 to protect human rights defenders and journalists.
Organised crime and powerful cartels have led to greater press censorship in Mexico. Newspapers such as El Diario de Juárez and El Siglo de Terreón as well as the Canal 44 TV station are examples of media outlets that have been directly threatened by narco-traffickers. Earlier this month, after Jaime Guadalupe González, the editor of the Ojinaga Noticias digital daily, was murdered, the online news site was shut down.
In the face of growing threats, more and more Mexican journalists are choosing to go into exile. They don’t want to give up their profession, but they are desperate to protect themselves and their families in the face of the state’s impotence and lack of willingness to protect them.
Laboratory for drugs cartels
The threats from Mexico’s narco-traffickers have become so serious that the country is becoming a kind of laboratory for drug cartels to try out techniques which they can use elsewhere, for example in Central America. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, drug cartels are also censoring newspapers and journalists, often inflicting painful deaths on those who challenge their power. For the past 5 years, their favourite method of silencing troublesome reporters has been to hire hit-men.
Democracy under threat
The 715 Mexican media organizations which signed an agreement in 2011 on how to cover the violence recently denounced the fact that criminal impunity and institutional helplessness are condemning them to stay silent just to survive. On Monday, they issued an urgent communiqué clearly outlining their demands. But it, like many others before it, has fallen into the same vacuum of governmental inaction.
A scared media cannot do its job. And the main victim of it all is democracy. More and more Mexicans are opening their newspapers, tuning their radios and watching news broadcasts on television, only to discover an artificial reality, one that has been shaped by organised crime. Democracy is slowly dying because of the silence cartels are now imposing on Mexico’s media.