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Narcotraffickers attack Televisa, Mexico's top TV network

Freedom of press is under siege in Mexico. Calls grow for a new law to make such attacks on the media a federal crime.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 8, 2009

Mexico City

A grenade attack on Mexico's top television station during the nightly news Tuesday is the latest – and most high-profile – threat against freedom of expression in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a concerted offensive against drug traffickers two years ago.

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Media watch groups consider Mexico among the most dangerous places for journalists to operate. Reporters on the drug beat are increasingly the victims of intimidation as warring drug traffickers vie for power and lucrative routes into the US market.

Some 5,700 Mexicans were killed last year in drug-related violence – more than double the total from the record reached the year before. The majority of violence is between drug traffickers, but civil society – from businesses owners to bystanders, prosecutors to reporters – are increasingly victims. Many journalists now write without bylines – if they report on drug trafficking at all. And the attack on the TV station in the bustling, northern town of Monterrey, a manufacturing hub, is the latest sign that narcotraffickers don't want anyone covering their activities.

"We face a huge risk of becoming a blind and deaf country, because the messengers are not telling us what they are observing out of sheer fear," says Mexican congressman Gerardo Priego Tapia, who presides over a federal special commission on attacks against the media. "We think that this case, against the most important TV company in Mexico in one of the most important business capitals in Latin America, is not an accident. It's a symbol and a warning of how this year is going to be."

Broadcasters at Grupo Televisa reported on the attack live, as gunmen in two pickup trucks tossed a grenade and opened fire on the station in downtown Monterrey. A handwritten note left at the scene read: "Stop reporting just on us. Report on the narco's political leaders." No one was injured in the attack.

Alleged hitmen have attacked local newspaper offices across the country, some with fatal results. But this is believed to be the first attack on a TV station in Mexico.

Media rights groups condemned the assault. "Fortunately there were no victims, but this attack shows that organized crime is targeting national as well as local media," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "Solving this attack will be a new test for the government, which wants to make it a federal crime to use violence against the press."