22 September 2010

Threats Against the News Media

At VOA, we are accustomed to hearing about the plight of reporters, including some working for us, who are harassed, detained, threatened or even killed because of their reporting. Usually these cases occur in countries with authoritarian governments and the threats to our journalists come from officials. A recent example is Abdumalik Boboev, a VOA Uzbek journalist, who has been charged by authorities in Uzbekistan with threatening public safety, slander, insult and visa violations.

But our attention was riveted by a frontpage item in the New York Times about the situation in Mexico, where drug gangs -- not officials -- have silenced some news organizations with killings and other violence.

The latest victims worked for the newspaper El Diario de Juarez in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. Two photographers for the paper were attacked last week. One died and the other was seriously wounded. The attack prompted the publication to publish an open letter to drug cartel leaders:

“We want you to explain to us what you want from us... What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by? You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report this month titled “Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press.”

The report asserts that “criminal organizations are controlling the information agenda in many cities across Mexico. Some news organizations have tried to opt out, refusing to cover anything related to the drug trade, even if that means ignoring shootouts in the street. But the traffickers don’t always take no for an answer; journalists report being forced to publish stories attacking rival cartels.”

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon concludes: “The battle for the free flow of information in Mexico has reached a crucial phase. Unless the Mexican government takes bold action, the narcos will continue to define what is news and what is not. That is no way to win the drug war.”

But the report also recommends that the news media take a more active role. It calls on reporters “to consistently cover the issue of violence against the media. Treat attacks against journalists, even those from competing news organizations, as worthy of news coverage. Speak out against attacks on the press in on-air commentary and editorial pages.”

VOA will continue to do its part.

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