Mexico daily restricts drug war coverage after 2nd journalist slain, seeks truce with cartels

By Olivia Torres, AP
Monday, September 20, 2010

Mexico daily cuts drug war coverage after slaying

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — The biggest newspaper in Mexico’s most violent city will restrict drug war coverage after the killing of its second journalist in less than two years, just as international press representatives will urge the government to make security for journalists a national priority.

In a front-page editorial Sunday, El Diario de Juarez asked drug cartels warring in this city across from El Paso, Texas, to say what they want from the newspaper, so it can continue its work without further death, injury or intimidation of its staff.

“Leaders of the different organizations that are fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez: The loss of two reporters from this publishing house in less than two years represents an irreparable sorrow for all of us who work here, and, in particular, for their families,” the editorial said. “We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect.”

It was the newspaper’s second front-page editorial since gunmen attacked two El Diario photographers Thursday — one a new employee and the other an intern. The new employee, Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, died and the intern was seriously wounded as they left their office to have lunch. In 2008, a crime reporter for El Diario was slain outside his home as he was taking his daughters to school.

At least 22 Mexican journalists have been killed over the past four years, at least eight of them targeted because of their reports on crime and corruption, says the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based media watchdog group that plans to present its report to Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Wednesday. At least seven other journalists have gone missing and more have fled the country, the report says.

Many media outlets, especially in border areas, have stopped covering the drug war. Until Sunday, El Diario was not one of them.

“Even in one of the places where violence is worst … El Diario was still doing a lot of good reporting on crime,” said Carlos Lauria, a CPJ senior coordinator. “The fact that they’re giving up is really bad. It’s an indication that the situation is out of control.”

Calderon’s Interior Ministry condemned the killing hours after the shooting, calling it an attack on freedom of expression for all Mexicans and saying that federal authorities are involved in the investigation.

But both front-page editorials accused the government of doing nothing about the intimidation and assaults on journalists by drug cartels.

The El Diario editorial Sunday said it addressed its plea to the drug gangs because they are now the city’s de facto authorities. It also said Calderon made several promises as a candidate to protect journalists that have not been fulfilled.

Violence between two warring cartels in the past two years has killed nearly 5,000 people in this city of 1.3 million people, making Ciudad Juarez one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

“We don’t want to continue to be used as cannon fodder in this war because we’re tired,” Diario’s editor, Pedro Torres, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

He said his staff felt great rage, helplessness and despair after burying Santiago on Saturday. “Burying the body does not bury the impunity or pain,” he said.

The report released earlier this month by the Committee to Protect Journalists said Mexico’s “federal government has failed to take responsibility for widespread attacks on free expression,” noting that less than 10 percent of crimes against news media have been successfully prosecuted.

The report also said some Mexican journalists have been corrupted by the cartels.

The committee is urging Calderon to make attacks on news media a federal crime and create a government committee to protect threatened journalists. It also calls for giving more autonomy to Mexico’s federal special prosecutor for crimes against reporters — an office that the media group calls ineffective.

“We now have criminal organizations trying to directly influence and battle for the control of information and this has become a national crisis,” Lauria, the CPJ coordinator, said Sunday. “It has gone way beyond the press and affected the fundamental rights of thousands of Mexicans.”

Associated Press Writer Katherine Corcoran in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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