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Glad to be reporting north of the border

POSTED May 10, 2011 9:31 p.m.

Being a journalist isn’t easy. Despite the popularity of social networking sites and the proliferation of blogging every detail of one’s daily life, most people still don’t like talking to the press. And getting information from public officials is oftentimes daunting.

But, no matter how hard it is to put together a story here at the Journal, it’s nothing compared to what our colleagues in Mexico go through every day.

An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or have disappeared since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out war against drug cartels in 2006, making Mexico one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.

Mexican journalists have started toning down the news — or not reporting it at all — rather than risk being killed for a story.

"You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more," an editor in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, told the Los Angeles Times in an August 2010 article. The editor, like most journalists interviewed for the Times story, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.

"We don't like the silence. But it's survival."

Recently, the majority of Mexico’s largest news media outlets agreed to a set of drug-war reporting guidelines, promising not to glorify drug traffickers, publish cartel propaganda messages or reveal information that could endanger police operations. The voluntary, self-policed guidelines are the first of their kind in Mexico.“We in the news media should condemn and reject the violence arising from organized crime,” the agreement says.

For Mexican citizens to get an accurate account of cartel-related violence, they have to look to international news reports.

When convoys of narco hit men brazenly turned their guns on army garrisons in Reynosa, trapping soldiers inside, it was front- page news in the Los Angeles Times in April 2010. It went unreported in Reynosa.

There is one Mexican source of drug-related crimes — El Blog del Narco. This blog reports the cartel violence that most of the other mainstream media outlets won’t, with all the gory details — and oftentimes, with extremely graphic photos including dead bodies.

Recent headlines included: “Battle at Falcon Lake: 12 Zetas brought down;” “Narco grave of Durango: 179 cadavers” (this story also had a photo of the dead bodies); “Six human heads found outside secondary school;” and “Matamoros police say goodbye to their weapons” (this story was about Mexican federal law enforcement officers disarming a local police force due to corruption).

Ignoring drug cartel-related violence isn’t going to make it go away. The independent narco blog is one way for freedom of speech and press to continue in Mexico.

But the narco blog also allows for cartel members to post comments, and, at times, “brag” about their exploits.

“To be part of Los Zetas you have to have balls and that is what all of you are missing,” reads one comment posted after a story about the Zetas gang leaving dozens of propaganda messages throughout the town of Nuevo Leon. “We’re all killers. I am young … I kill, bury, torture and whatever. I don’t feel sorry for the enemy.”

Glorifying violence is never good and most news organizations have policies against it — including the Journal. We never publish graffiti that touts a criminal street gang, or pictures of gang violence.

It’s a fine line between reporting the news and being used by criminal elements to send messages. I am grateful that here in America, members of the media walk that line philosophically and not by gun point.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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