Mexico: Risking Life for Truth

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos
A Mexican soldier helping to destroy a marijuana plantation near Culiacán, Sinaloa, February 2009

Let us say that you are a Mexican reporter working for peanuts at a local television station somewhere in the provinces—the state of Durango, for example—and that one day you get a friendly invitation from a powerful drug-trafficking group. Imagine that it is the Zetas, and that thanks to their efforts in your city several dozen people have recently perished in various unspeakable ways, while justice turned a blind eye. Among the dead is one of your colleagues. Now consider the invitation, which is to a press conference to be held punctually on the following Friday, at a not particularly out of the way spot just outside of town. You were, perhaps, considering going instead to a movie? Keep in mind, the invitation notes, that attendance will be taken by the Zetas.

Imagine now that you arrive on the appointed day at the stated location, and that you are greeted by several expensively dressed, highly amiable men. Once the greetings are over, they have something to say, and the tone changes. We would like you, they say, to be considerate of us in your coverage. We have seen or heard certain articles or news reports that are unfair and, dare we say, displeasing to us. Displeasing. We have our eye on you. We would like you to consider the consequences of offending us further. We know you would not look forward to the result. We give warning, but we give no quarter. You are dismissed.


I heard the story of one such press conference a couple of years ago, shortly after it took place, and had it confirmed recently by a supervisor of one of the reporters who was present. It gives some notion of the real difficulty of practicing journalism in provincial Mexico, where dozens of reporters have been killed since the start of the century, some after prolonged torture. Different totals are given for the number of victims.

For example, Article 19, the British organization to protect freedom of expression, gives a figure of seventy-two reporters and photographers killed in Mexico since the year 2000, and of these, forty-five killed since the start of the administritation of Felipe Calderón, in 2006. Other organizations give a total of more than eighty. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), among others, lists only twenty-seven killed since 1992. It does, however, keep a separate, open list of journalists’ deaths in which the motive for each assassination remains unexplained by authorities. When these two sets of victims are added up the total is sixty-five. “Mexico has the highest number of unconfirmed cases in the world…and the real reason so many cases we examine are unconfirmed is that there’s no real official investigation [of these crimes] at all,” the CPJ’s director, Joel Simon, told me. “So we don’t know why…

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