Mexican press tagged 'not free' amid drug war violence, self-censorship
Freedom House, in its annual report released today, says that Mexico is facing one of the world’s most radical declines in press freedom. A media pact to not publish grisly photos complicates the situation.
(Page 2 of 2)
And while many outlets have their own codes of ethics, an outright ban like the one signed by major Mexican outlets in March is considered rare. There have been a handful of other cases. Afghanistan’s government sought to ban the media from covering violence to not incite more ahead of the 2009 presidential election. The Honduran government and newspapers reportedly agreed to limit publication of violent photos this year. And Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez placed a ban last year on publishing violent photos in newspapers – a controversial move that critics say was politically motivated.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Sign up for our daily World Editor's Picks newsletter. Our best stories, in your inbox.
Why Mexican media censors itself
Although the pact in Mexico was made among the media, it has drawn similar criticism – in particular that it essentially plays a public relations role for the government by downplaying the violence afflicting the country. And some of the most influential papers in the country, including Proceso magazine and the daily Reforma, refused to join.
Among the pact’s stated goals are to put the violence in perspective with that of other countries, keep journalists safe, and not unwittingly become propaganda tools for drug traffickers, who should not, they say, be treated as either “heroes” or “victims.”
Lucila Vargas, a professor of international communications at the University of North Carolina, says that as long as outlets are restricting themselves, as opposed to a government clampdown, a limit to violent depictions is appropriate.
“I am extremely concerned about the general culture of violence and how the representation of violence contributes to the environment,” she says. “[The media can offer] complete reports but they do not have to be full of blood.”
Press freedom falls worldwide
Mexican reporters are not alone in questioning how to cover violence and stay safe. Honduras also became “not free” this year, after the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in 2009 led to attacks blamed on both sides of the political spectrum against journalists, with six killed in March alone. Ecuador and Bolivia also fell on the Freedom House report as those governments tightened control over the media.
Overall, the number of people worldwide with access to free and independent media declined to its lowest level in over a decade, Freedom House says, in large part because of declines in populous countries such as Mexico, Egypt, and Thailand. The bright news is that after eight years of continuous decline of press freedom, 2010 saw a global leveling off.
Here in Mexico, as the traditional media steers clear of drug-related violence, because they are either intimidated or bribed or following new codes of conduct, social media is thriving, with sites such as the “Narco Blog,” run by an anonymous blogger, drawing thousands of readers who otherwise would be facing a media blackout, especially in the most troubled parts of the country.
So far, social media has not faced threats like those against the traditional media, says Ms. Karlekar, but that could change as they become more influential.