Friday, November 4, 2011
Organized crime, hostile governments present challenges to Latin free press
The June 1976 event stunned the United States, simply because it was unprecedented. I was a a law student in Washington, D.C. at the time, and I remember the article plastered on the front page of The Washington Post. The U.S. press mobilized, launched a cooperative nationwide effort to track down the killers, and eventually got the job done. To my knowledge, nothing like that has happened since.
Yesterday the president of the Inter-American Press Organization, Milton Coleman, told a Bogotá, Columbia newspaper that "drug traffickers have become the greatest threat to freedom of the press in Mexico." He said the situation is critical in border ares, where huge volumes of narcotics are transported into the United States every day, and where tens of thousands of people are directly or indirectly in the service of the cartels. Printing the name of a connected person, or publishing an article which exposes something that powerful people do not want exposed, can lead to a death sentence which will be quickly carried out by well paid sicarios. Worse, it's impossible to know who can be trusted.
"There are many cases where journalists have stopped writing about drug issues, and many newspapers have altogether abandoned anything dealing with narcotics trafficking. It's just too dangerous," he told the newspaper. Mexican authorities say that since 2000, 75-80 journalists have been executed, most of them while investigating organized crime.
But that's not the only challenge to a free press in Latin America, said Coleman. He pointed out that in some countries, notably Ecuador and Venezuela, governments have become openly hostile to any journalism which challenges or criticizes official policies. The Hugo Chávez government recently fined a Venezuelan television station over $2 million USD for a report which it disliked. The station has said that the fine will bankrupt it. And in Ecuador, president Rafael Correa has had a particularly stormy relationship with the press, which he has described as "mediocre, incompetent, inaccurate, lying" and "a group of wild beasts." Correa sued a local newspaper in 2007 over an editorial critical of his government, which resulted in a large fine against the paper and a jail sentence against the editor, who later fled to the United States. Ecuador recently reduced the fine and rescinded the jail term, but the atmosphere in the country remains hostile to the press.
Mexico is a death zone for journalists: http://mexicogulfreporter.blogspot.com/2011/09/united-nations-says-mexico-is-death.html.
Veracruz reporter paid with her life: http://mexicogulfreporter-supplement.blogspot.mx/2011/11/veracruz-press-furious-over-prosecutors.html.
at 11:27 AM