When journalists become targets

Threats, violence are inhibiting coverage of drug cartels in Mexico

Journalists are taking fewer risks covering the drug wars in Mexico in recent years out of fear for their safety, which is affecting investigative reporting of organized crime, according to a binational panel in San Diego on Friday.

"The threats of violence, the crimes against reporters are influencing editorial coverage along the border," said Adela Navarro, director of the Tijuana news weekly Zeta. "Reporters, editors and directors are deciding not to risk their reporters and photographers because of the threat against journalists."

As a result, she said, "few journalists are investigating organized crime and ‘narco trafficking.' There's news outlets that rely on official bulletins, press conferences and the official interviews that police arrange."

Navarro said Zeta remains committed to covering organized crime and corruption despite having lost members of its staff to violence over the years. Her staff is extremely careful, however, she said.

Reporters, for example, do not use their bylines on investigative reports about organized crime, she said.

Others in the panel said some reporters wait for police to arrive to a crime scene before they get there. Others work in teams or do not meet with people they don't know.

Navarro, Tracy Wilkinson, Mexico City bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and Roberto Rock, director general for Mexico City-based El Universal discussed coverage of the drug wars at the gathering of the American Society of News Editors and Inter American Press Association in San Diego.

The fear of investigating organized crime is based on a real threat: More than 35,000 people have been killed since 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on drug cartels. Among those killed have been 38 journalists, 17 have disappeared and countless others have been threatened, intimidated or attacked, according to ASNE. Self-censorship is practiced among news outlets in some places out of fear.

Rock said the Mexican government has made a few arrests but has largely failed to bring the killers of journalists to justice, which is why editorial chiefs and news media associations have taken it upon themselves to establish safety guidelines for coverage.

Leonel.sanchez@sandiegored.com

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