After journalist Miroslava Breach became the third reporter to be killed in a month, El Norte newspaper published its final edition and shut down its printing presses.
Attacks against journalists are so bold because they are tolerated – there is impunity.
The reason given had nothing to do with digital technology or slumping ad revenues – the things with which newspapers around the world are struggling. Its owner said he was closing his paper after 27 years because continuing to report the news in Mexico is just too dangerous.
Mexico is the deadliest country for reporters in the western hemisphere. But what galls journalists most is that the murders of their colleagues routinely go unpunished. Charges are few, prosecutions are rare, and convictions almost never happen.
That culture of impunity has many in the media theorising that police and the prosecutors who should be targeting drug barons are, in fact, working for the wrong side.
Media outlets in Mexico – El Norte included – are financially dependent on state governments for lucrative advertising contracts, which means that they may be compromised in their work as well.
Between the conflicts affecting the various players – allegations of official corruption, the ever-present threat of violence from the drug cartels, and a mounting death toll – there’s a surplus of news stories in Mexico and one fewer paper to report on them.
“Impunity is really the fuel that keeps aggressions running. And that is because any person who right now wants to impose censorship on journalists, on the media, by violent means, knows that he can get away with it. And the way that he knows that is because the person who did it before him got away with it,” says Javier Garza Ramos, former editor, Siglo de Torreon.
Miroslava’s murder “opened my eyes,” says Oscar Cantu Murguia, the owner of El Norte newspaper. “It made me think about the fate of the journalists who have been murdered and about the investigations that haven’t led to any findings. It also made me think about how, in 27 years, we have had to overcome so much adversity.”
With eight journalists killed between 2014 and 2016, Mexico is on par with Iraq and almost as perilous for reporters as Syria. But unlike conventional war zones like Syria, where reporters can be collateral damage – victims of crossfire – the media casualties in Mexico are all targeted.
Few of the killers ever face justice.
Of the 23 Mexican journalists murdered between 2006 and 2016, only two cases ended with convictions, revealing an impunity rate of 91 percent.
Killers of journalists in Mexico are set apart by their brazen disregard for any potential consequences of their actions.
Leaving notes at the scene, which happened after the Miroslava Breach murder, is typical. And it’s not just journalists. Bloggers, or others online critical of the drug trade, have also been killed – strung up for the world to see with notes attached.
And not all of the messages left behind by murderers are scribbled down on a piece of paper.
“In 2014, we documented the case of Maria del Rosario Fuentes. She used to speak about the violence in the state of Tamaulipas, especially coming from drug cartels. She was abducted and her Twitter account was taken by the perpetrators and they started tweeting, how she was being beaten and how they supposedly murdered her,” says Sandra Patargo, spokeswoman, Article 19.
Covering the drug trade, and the risks that come with it, is not the only problem Mexico’s journalists face.
It’s just the most lethal; the one that gets the headlines.
The issues, the tales of collusion, and compromise run much deeper.
Daniela Pastrana, director, Periodistas de a Pie
Oscar Cantu Murguia, former editor, El Norte
Sandra Patargo, spokeswoman, Article 19
Javier Garza Ramos, former editor, Siglo de Torreon
Source: Al Jazeera