National Public Radio ran a great piece this morning that spotlighted how the growing crime syndicate wars in Northern Mexico are affecting the media.
What they reported is what a number of us have been saying for years:
“This record level of violence is really unprecedented,” says Carlos Lauria, head of the Americas program at the Committee to Protect Journalists.
By the organization’s tally, more than 30 Mexican reporters have been killed or have disappeared since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in December 2006.
“We only see these numbers (of murdered journalists) in conflict ridden countries like Iraq and Somalia,” Lauria says.
Groups such as CPJ, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Inter American Press Association have spoken out about the dangers to journalists in the area and against the lack of prosecution of the killers.
And yet with all these killings, reports about the violence in the area that include the dangers to journalists are few and far between.
A UNESCO report earlier this year about the violence against journalists that got little mention in press.
And to be clear, the criticism of the lack of action against those who intimidate or kill journalists is not just us looking out for our own. The violence is an indicator of how powerful the drug gangs have become. Local government has ceased to exist. And even the national government has been intimidated.
Mexican journalist Denise Maeker said late last week, “journalists are not the most important citizens but they do carry out the task of informing, something that cannot be done under these conditions.”
Maeker suspended her talk show in protest over the kidnappings and killings of journalists. (Denise Maerker program in Mexico is suspended)
The reason the drug lords attack the journalists is because they are the ones who have the most credibility when it comes to explaining what is going on. Few believe the local government statements or even the national statements because of the levels of corruption. But the newspapers and broadcasters are seen as honest brokers.
But now, given a choice of death or saying nothing, many journalists are saying nothing.
At least the gangs understood that unlike many of the politicians, the journalists could not be bought off. They had to be threatened or killed to silence them.
The destruction of free and independent media in the border region is continuing and unfortunately few people — including many in our profession — understand what is happening.