Media Blog

Blame Drug Trade for News Blackout in Mexico

New York Times:

REYNOSA, Mexico — The big philosophical question in this gritty border town does not concern trees falling in the forest but bodies falling on the concrete: Does a shootout actually happen if the newspapers print nothing about it, the radio and television stations broadcast nothing, and the authorities never confirm that it occurred?

As two powerful groups of drug traffickers engaged in fierce urban combat in Reynosa in recent weeks, the reality that many residents were living and the one that the increasingly timid news media and the image-conscious politicians portrayed were difficult to reconcile.

“You begin to wonder what the truth is,” said one of Reynosa’s frustrated and fearful residents, Eunice Peña, a professor of communications. “Is it what you saw, or what the media and the officials say? You even wonder if you were imagining it.”

Angry residents who witnessed the carnage began to fill the void, posting raw videos and photos taken with cellphones.

“The pictures do not lie,” said a journalist in McAllen, Tex., who monitors what is happening south of the border online but has stopped venturing there himself. “You can hear the gunshots. You can see the bodies. You know it’s bad.”

The Mexican government’s drug offensive, employing tens of thousands of soldiers, marines and federal police officers, has unleashed ever increasing levels of violence over the last three years as traffickers have fought to protect their lucrative smuggling routes. Journalists have long been among the victims, but the attacks on members of the media now under way in Reynosa and elsewhere along a long stretch of border from Nuevo Laredo to Matamoros are at their worst.

Traffickers have gone after the media with a vengeance in these strategic border towns where drugs are smuggled across by the ton. They have shot up newsrooms, kidnapped and killed staff members and called up the media regularly with threats that were not the least bit veiled. Back off, the thugs said. Do not dare print our names. We will kill you the next time you publish a photograph like that.

“They mean what they say,” said one of the many terrified journalists who used to cover the police beat in Reynosa. “I’m censoring myself. There’s no other way to put it. But so is everybody else.”

The rest here.

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