La prensa

Journalists at the fence for Press Freedom

Created: 13 August, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read

Tijuana journalist line up along the border with painted pictures of their eyes and mouths covered.

    It is an overcast Saturday morning in August, with the border wall penetrating the ocean as usual, when journalists start dropping in, quietly saying hello and leaving their usual work companions on the ground by the border fence; phones, coffee stained notebooks, cameras, voice recorders and pens…

    We take signs showing a black and red face with the ears, mouth and eyes covered: the image of a censured journalist with which we replace our own faces walking up to the border wall.

    We take turns taking pictures, we cover our own silent protest as we later interview one another under the condition of anonymity.

    It was a surreal experience for the 50 Tijuana journalists having to stand in front of the cameras, become part of the news, protesting instead of covering a protest, but with 64 journalists killed and 12 disappeared in the last 10 years in Mexico, and hundreds more under threat, it would be absurd and even suicidal not to do this.

    In Tijuana alone, at least a dozen journalists have been followed, threatened and even illegally detained by Federal Agents trying to intimidate them.

    ‘Things have definitely gotten more hostile” says a journalist working the crime beat for a local paper, “we’ve been blamed for cop murders and we are considered a threat by authorities. Government officials are constantly ‘asking us’ not to publish this or that information.”

    A correspondent for a national media tells of the hardship of deciding if and when to go out in the middle of the night to cover the discovery of a corpse or a violent crime, as she laments decisions made in the heat of an adrenaline rush that have made her feel in danger.

    “Only once have I received a direct threat” she calmly explains, “It was sent trough a third party who told me if I wanted to feel safe in my job I should stick to the official versions and not dig too deep.”

Article - Uber

    The New York based Committee to Protect Journalist has been publishing an Impunity Index for the past three years, highlighting countries where crimes against journalists are less likely to be punished.

    In the Index, Mexico has gone from 11th place to the 9th in just two years, not just because of crimes against journalists but mainly because of the lack of investigations and convictions in cases of violence against them.

    Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director is quoted in CPJ’s website saying, “we’ve heard repeated pledges from governments that the killers of journalists will face justice, but until these promises are fulfilled, media will continue to be targeted by those who believe they are above the law and immune from consequences. “One country, Brazil, made its way off this list of shame by investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators in these crimes.”

National movement

    The Playas Protest by the border fence is just the local expression of a national mobilization called “We want them alive” disseminated quickly through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, in the hopes of stopping attacks on the press in Mexico and create better conditions for press freedom.

    The movement came together after four journalists were kidnapped by organized crime in Durango, during the coverage of a jail riot where prisoners demanded the restitution of the jail’s dean, a woman was detained and charged with corruption.

    After the coverage, the reporters disappeared and their cars were found in flames. A few days later they contacted their newsrooms communicating their captors’ demands: for the media to show a 15 minute confession from Torreón Coahuila cops admitting to having protected a drug cartel, the kidnappers rival.

    Some media outlets did transmit the video and finally all journalists were freed unharmed.

Article - Uber

    This was unheard of in the history of violence against journalists, one filled with killings, disappearances and threats, coming from both governments and organized crime. Never before had journalists been used as tools to disseminate information under the threat of death.

    Denisse Maerker, who has a weekly show on Televisa,  -the company one of the kidnapped is part of-, decided to cancel the show, a measure applauded by another powerful journalist, MVS Carmen Aristegui and many other journalists many of whom dedicated their columns to the discussion of the increased level of harassment lived by media nationwide.

    Many of us feel caught in the cross fire; with one side being organized crime and the other many government entities. Even president Felipe Calderon has admitted media and his administration,” have grown apart”.

    But better late than never, the harassment has lead to a positive change; journalists getting closer to one another, a new brotherhood stemmed from a deep sensation of helplessness and anger and discuss over the growing hurdles in order to practice press and expression freedom, the right not only to be informed but to inform the rest of us.

    50 of us gathered in Tijuana by the border wall; 200 in Ciudad Juarez: in Tamaulipas they couldn’t even protest. But for those who are to threatened to take the streets, Mexico City marched with 1,200 journalists; in Oaxaca –where 3 journalists have been murdered-200 marched, and 200 more took the streets in Hermosillo.

    We are all marching for our dead, with both grief and hope for dialog and unity; we will need them both for the road ahead, to keep demanding protection so our daily task of informing the public doesn’t mean we are risking our lives.

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