Journalism and violence in Mexico

In Opinión by María Elena Meneses

*By María Elena Meneses

The murder and kidnapping of journalists has become a growing phenomenon and an inevitable risk on the Mexican  domestic agenda.

The mission of journalism in a democratic society is to interpret social reality. Journalism professionals create the bridges that inform an audience of a nation’s or region’s happenings. It is also their role to promote accountability in any of the Powers-at-be, either the State, the market, or even organized crime itself.

Given its mission, it isn’t an accident that in a violent atmosphere like the one Mexico is experiencing today, journalism has become a vulnerable trade. Thus, when a journalist is kidnapped, it isn’t just a professional who is kidnapped, but the role he or she plays for society.

According to the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) between 2000 and 2009 57crimes were registered against journalists, the majority of which remain unpunished and, unless proveN otherwise, the hypothesis of them being perpetrated by organized crime remains latent.

In recent days, the kidnap of four journalists in Durango evidenced not only the vulnerability of the profession in Mexico, an alert  which was issued several years ago by NGOs and the civil society, but the urgency that exists to find long-term strategies to protect those on the trade, because beyond the individual human loss, freedom of speech is a constitutional and human right that has become a hostage of criminal groups in their effort to intimidate and send messages to the government and the military.

What to do on face of this scenario that attempts against democracy? Promoting freedom of speech and guaranteeing the right to access information, is also infringed by the self-censorship that an atmosphere of constant threats against journalists generates, professionals who would rather not report on a story to protect their lives, requires measures and commitments in two dimensions: first and foremost, the media and  journalists, who are vulnerable because of poor professionalization and training.

Lately, courses and workshops have promoted the adoption of security protocols that contemplate, among other things, the systematization of journalistic routines and the constant training of the trade in key topics like human rights and journalism ethics. All of these, although undoubtedly necessary, are yet insufficient.

Mexican journalism has before it the challenge to shape the profession into a solid and autonomous trade that can face up to power.

When receiving the national journalism award in 2005, the founder of the combative weekly ‘Zeta’, Jesús Blancornelas, reproached the trade for its lack of sensibility in the face of the murder of  colleagues, and called for solidarity among professionals, as occurs in other countries, which cloaks journalism WITH A HIGHER PROTECTION AND WITH THE POWER TO MAKE ITS DEMANDS HEARD. The powerful  INTERESTS which journalism questions and calls into account are the ones THAT benefit of the professional disintegration OF THE PROFESSION, which creates a culture of indolence, impunity, and vulnerability.

Nonetheless, not even a strong trade, nor the best trained journalism corps can escape being a victim of organized crime.  Journalism takes place within a determined social reality that is cannot transform. The Mexican State is the one than has the responsability  for guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to access of information.

It´s necessary to first recognize that the strategy to fight against drug trafficking is having serious consequences On society; An example of this is the fractured social structure left  in communities like Ciudad Juarez.

In this fight against drug trafficking civilians have also died in the crossfire, like the two students at the Tecnológico de Monterrey ( march,2010)  Their deaths have become an amblem for those who want to point out thart there is a  collateral damage from the government´s  anti-drug policy; We add to this the kidnap of mexican journalists working for renowned media on the northern part of the country.

Even though a special prosecutor working to investigate felonies against the media exists in the Attorney General’s office, it does not count with investigative tolls to carry out investigations because  crimes against journalists are federal crime and not under the guidance of federal authorities.

In regards to strategies for the protection of journalists, the closest reference is Colombia, which the mexican government has recognized.  Even with its deficiencies and limitations in its orchestration, the Colombian government had the political willingness in 2001 to accept and establish mechanisms to safeguard  journalists through the Antonio Nariño Plan, in which the government, military, NGOs and media collectively committed themselves to carry out four fundamental actions: pull out journalists from risky zones, reduce to the minimum aggressions against news professionals using state intelligence to determine threats , facilitate protection for relatives of journalists at risk, and provide preparation and training.

However, the question is still in the air, where are we in this fight against organized crime? Have we reached the point of establishing warlike protection protocols like those implemented in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Beyond all palliative strategies, the moment has come in Mexico to rethink an open, responsible, and transparent discussion of the current government´s anti-drug policy.

The four journalists kidnapped last july are forunatley safe after  the intervention of the Ministry of Public Security,  but Mexican journalism remains unprotected and vulnerable.

*Information Society Chair

Tecnológico de Monterrey, CCM  e-mail: marmenes@itesm.mx

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María Elena MenesesJournalism and violence in Mexico