What is beyond debate is that criminals with guns, grenades and armed convoys have silenced journalists, muted the media and suppressed news reports in numerous “hot” regions of Mexico.
Several newspapers have simply surrendered, telling readers that they no longer will cover the slaughter and beheadings perpetrated by the drug cartels.
“The decision to suspend all information related to organized crime is based on our responsibility to ensure the security of over 1,000 workers,” the Zocalo de Saltillo newspaper said in an editorial March 11.
Pressure on journalists differs from region to region, changing in intensity and focus. Experts say areas most severely affected include Tamaulipas state, parts of Durango, Coahuila, Zacatecas and coastal Veracruz states, and the area known as Tierra Caliente, which encompasses regions near the Pacific coast of Jalisco, Morelos, Michoacan, Colima, Guerrero and the state of Mexico.
Rules for journalists are unwritten and dizzyingly complex.
“In Sinaloa, you can report on what occurs there as long as it’s about one of the cartels and not the other. In Juarez, you can report anything, you just can’t say why it occurred. In Tamaulipas, you can’t report anything,” said Ricardo Raphael, a political scientist who is also a newspaper columnist and television host.
Gunmen kill or “disappear” journalists who defy the cartels, sometimes leaving no explanation for their actions.
Jaime Gonzalez, chief of a community news website in the border city of Ojinaga, across from Presidio, Texas, was eating at a taco stand March 3 when gunmen drove up and fired at him 18 times, then stole his camera. Two months later, there are still no arrests in his murder.
Daniel Alejandro Martinez, a 22-year-old photographer, had worked for the Vanguardia newspaper in Saltillo for only a month. On April 23, he was sent to cover a social event. He never showed up. His body turned up the next day. No one has been captured for that killing, either.
That is the norm in Mexico — impunity for the killing of journalists. Of dozens of homicides, only one person has been convicted, and free press advocates widely condemn that case as a mockery of justice.
Authorities offer many reasons for the impunity, including dysfunction in the judiciary. But one pattern emerges: Officials often argue that the killings had nothing to do with journalism, turning focus away from reprisal for a reporter’s work.
“They say, ‘Oh, it was a crime of passion,’ the classic way to divert attention, the false lead,” said Perla Gomez Gallardo, a media law professor at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City. “Or, ‘They caught him with a homosexual lover in a hotel,’ or ‘Someone was after him,’ or ‘It was a personal matter.’
“Well, it might be the case. But how could we be sure if not all avenues linked to freedom of expression are looked into in the investigation?”
The slayings of journalists have hit hard at provincial print media, but television and radio journalists also have been killed and their newsrooms or transmission towers attacked.
“The installations of Televisa in the north of the country have been hit by bombings, and their television reporters have been kidnapped or disappeared,” said Carlos Lauria, the senior Americas program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.