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In Mexico, violence against journalists growing and reports on violence disappearing

By Rodrigo Gomes*

The reported cases of aggression against journalists in Mexico reached a total of 225 between January and September of this year. Of these, two of the journalists died and 33 left the country under threats. In addition to the violence of organized crime, a serious problem of institutional censorship also affects Mexico.

Other cases include the collective kidnapping of a team of journalists, the burning of reporters' vehicles and an attack in which a grenade was thrown at a newspaper's building. The situation was explained by Ignácio Rodríguez Reyna, of the Mexican magazine Emmquis, during a talk on investigations of organized crime as a part of the Global Investigative Journalism Conference. Journalists that also participated include Juan Luis Font (Guatemala), Romina Mella, of the site IDL Reporters (Peru) and Martha Soto, of the newspaper El Tiempo (Colombia).

In the institutional sphere, it has been six months since official reports on drug trafficking and the wave of violence in the nation simply disappeared. The reason behind this is the editorial control exercised by the Secretariat of the Interior of Mexico (responsible for public safety in the nation), which does not permit the distribution of news about drug trafficking, assassinations or violence.

According to Reyna, censorship in the nation is increasing for two reasons. The first is self-censorship as a mechanism of self-protection on the part of the media, which claim that the safety conditions to cover subjects like drug trafficking and violence do not exist.

"In the state of Tamaulipas, the 56 existing newspapers practically don't talk about violence because they can't guarantee the safety of their reporters," Reyna said.

The second reason is institutional. "Since Enrique Peña Nieto was elected, the Secretariat of the Interior has intended to control the news about violence. The disappearance of stories about violence depends on whether the publication can be considered traditional or leftist," Reyna explained. he added that "the Mexican State has negotiated with drug traffickers with the pretense of reducing official rates of violence," he said. However, between January and June of this year, there were 5,989 murders in the nation.

For the journalist, the return to action of the Mexican army brought a new harmony to the nation. "With this,  a certain control over the situation was guaranteed, ensuring the benefits of the drug traffickers, politicians, businessmen and others connected to organized crime," Reyna said.

Other roundtable participants talked about their work on clearing up the relationships between drug traffickers and the different spheres of power in the country: military, political and private.

Martha Soto talked about a report on which she is still working about how organized crime is rooted within the structure of power in a country. "Drug traffickers discovered the importance of linking themselves to the politicians and businessmen not only to hide themselves but also to keep and guarantee their interests," Soto said.

She added that one of her main works is about people who previously formed part of the cartels and are now successful businessmen with new names and new pasts.

Juan Luis Font talked about the investigation of a military officer involved in the murder of bishop Juan José Gerardi. According to the reporter, the officer controls the prison where he is serving his 25-year sentence. "He leaves (the prison) in official vehicles and picks the director of the prison. We think he is getting plastic surgery because he is always going to secret clinics," Font said.

"The parallel powers present in all political structures of the nation compromise the functioning of the State. The press has the fundamental role of deconstructing this power, which is invisible to the majority of people," he added.

Rominia Mella talked about a report that lays out a profile of drug trafficking in Peru and describes its operation, production, exportation and billing "as a part of an extensive job, with intelligence information from police, military sources, the population and even traffickers and soldiers of Sendero Luminoso (a Peruvian guerrilla group)," Mella explained.

*Rodrigo Gomes is a senior journalism student attending Anhembi Morumbi University in São Paulo, Brazil.

This story was originally published in the official site of the Global Investigative Journalism Conference.

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