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Free speech threatened in Mexico

Originally published November 12, 2010

Freedom of the press is the most important reason for being a journalist in the United States. Don’t lie, don’t make up stories, don’t plagiarize – and essentially, you’re protected, though that is really simplifying things.

While reporters around the world have struggled with overprotective regimes resulting in physical threats or even death when they step over a line, the reporting environment in America has been well protected.

This isn’t a discussion on how great America is – though for journalism, it really is – but to highlight the problems other countries are having, none more extensive than the current situation in Mexico.

Recently, one of the most disturbing things has been the overwhelming dominance of the drug cartel lords in controlling the media, as it’s not the government forcing a gag order on reporting, rather the cartels who want their business kept out of the media.

The violence stemming from the cartel’s power has spread across Mexico, and through their reporting of the drug issues, journalists have been threatened, injured, abducted and killed.

According to figures from Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights, at least 11 journalists have been killed within the last year alone, and very few of those cases have been solved.

The government even developed a special prosecution to cover media-based cases, but those efforts, too, have proven futile.

The cartels have become so threatening that many papers refuse to cover it, leaving a dire situation that screams to be covered to just continue in the background.

And others, as admitted by Mexican journalists at a recent conference, adapt what’s printed in their papers to the bribes that they receive, bribes that most likely also keep them protected and safe, at least for a brief period.

But as the Mexican media are separating themselves further and further from the situation, it is painful to see how many papers in Mexico are suffering, to see journalists being murdered for simply reporting the truth and to see a sacrifice of journalistic ethics.

For example, last Friday saw the death of a journalist and a leading drug lord in northern Mexico. The local paper in that area did nothing more than post the death of its reporter, Carlos Guajardo Romero, on its website, but citizens stepped in to report where the newspapers couldn’t, with videos popping up on YouTube documenting the gunfire.

If nothing else, this tragic time could highlight the rise of citizen journalism, with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook reporting the travesties the newspapers are too fearful.

As American journalists (or Americans in general), there is not much we can do, other than shed light on the horrifying state the media is in – and then we can be thankful for what we have.

In recent years, a few American journalists have been captured or killed when reporting in foreign countries, but since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, only four have been killed in the United States.

Four in almost twenty years, compared to Mexico’s 11 in the last year alone.

For as much as we complain here about the state of the media – the future of reporting, biased reporting, etc. – we don’t have to worry about dying for simply doing our jobs. And that is something to cherish.

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