Drug cartels threaten media integrity
March 26, 2010
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Powerful drug cartels are buying off journalists in northern Mexico in an effort to curb coverage of killings on the U.S. border, according to Reuters.When bribery does not work, the drug cartels resort to violence against the media. As a result, Mexico has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. Many reporters refuse to put their bylines on stories, and many newspapers have stopped covering the drug gangs altogether.
Enforcers for the drug cartels have fired on newsrooms, according to the Los Angeles Times, kidnapped and killed staff members, and called up the media regularly with death threats. Other times, in a grisly twist on public relations, journalists have been pressured to publicize decapitations or other violent acts. Drug gangs view such publicity as a way to scare rivals and enhance their own standing in the underworld.
According to a press release issued by Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, if there is a gunfight in the middle of the street and hundreds of people witness it, there is no assurance you’ll read about it in the next day’s newspaper.
Self-censorship by news organizations means residents must rely on sharing the news between themselves in order to find out what is going on in their communities.
The underground media has always been strong in Mexico, said Assistant Professor of History Alvis Dunn, especially through print and oral means to disseminate information.
“The term media blackout can be misleading,” continued Dunn. “To the degree that Mexicans are aware of what is actually going on in their country, there is no blackout.”
“Because of the hardships in volatile countries, there’s always been an extremely strong way of sharing news without corporate media broadcasting in those countries,” said Dunn. “The Mexican government may not want to have their problems with the cartels aired out for the world to see.”
The line between corruption and intimidation in the media remains blurry as the media blackout and violence continues.