Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The Risks of Being a Journalist in Mexico



Being a journalist in Mexico, especially one working in a volatile part of the country, is getting tougher by the day. Recent assassinations and kidnappings underscore this worrying trend, one of which was the disappearance of a 17-year-old journalist in Veracruz last month. Another was the murder of two communications professionals at the end of August in Mexico City.

Aggressions against journalists have spiked dramatically in recent years, according to a 2010 report written by the NGOs Artículo 19 and Cencos. The report, titled “Violencia en México y el derecho a la información: Análisis de las cifras” (Violence in Mexico and the right to information: a statistical analysis), reveals that there were 244 incidents against journalists in 2009—a jump of more than 300 percent from the 76 incidents reported in 2003.

The report claims that the most frequent aggressions against a journalistic outlet (whether a reporter or a media installation) are either a physical or material attack. However, there are varying degrees of severity—it can range from firing a gun to destroying media equipment. A troubling 6 percent of all incidents are murders.

The worst perpetrators are organized criminal groups like cartels and gangs. But many public authorities also contribute to this problem; according to the Artículo 19/Cencos brief. In fact, the organizations note that 49 percent of aggressions in 2010 were committed by a public-sector official.

Watchdog groups like Reporters Without Borders point out that 80 media professionals have perished in Mexico since 2000. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, has weighed in, categorizing Mexico as the most dangerous Latin American country to be a journalist.

Citizens have had enough. Last month, hundreds of activists took to the streets in Mexico City to demonstrate against the escalating violence throughout the country and demand a swift resolution to multiple murder investigations.

Miguel Badillo, director of the magazine Contralínea, said he was marching to demand justice. “Also, we demand the application of protection measures for journalistic activities, something that doesn’t exist in Mexico,” Badillo added.

Marco Lara Klahr, a 30-year veteran of the journalism industry, also participated: “I have experienced reporting in risk zones for a long time. I have covered hurricanes and armed conflicts, and I never have felt this level of vulnerability in certain regions of Mexico.”

The vulnerable regions he is referring to are principally northern states such as Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coahuila. The Artículo 19 and Cencos report classifies these four states among Mexico’s most dangerous.

Also in late August, journalist Humberto Millán Salazar was found dead in the northern state of Sinaloa after having been kidnapped by armed men. He was a radio personality and the director of a digital newspaper. Millán Salazar was the sixth Mexican journalist killed in 2011.

These grim statistics underscore the difficult, risky situation on the ground. To prevent repercussions by criminal organizations, many mainstream news publications do not publish personal bylines on crime stories.

And even social media is not spared by violent threats. On the contrary, violence seems to have reached the Internet. Last month, two corpses—both young people who were harnessing the power of Twitter to notify their communities of potential chaos—were found hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. One sign accompanying the mutilated bodies read, “This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet. You better pay attention. I’m about to get you.”

These thuggish actions are clearly done because perpetrators know the influence of the media and its power to inform. Many protestors at the Mexico City march urged the journalistic community to stay strong, carrying signs that read, “Silence is the worst crime.”

*Isabelle Schäfer is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is a freelance journalist in Mexico City, graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and reported from Paris, New York, Buenos Aires, and Switzerland.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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