The recent kidnapping of four journalists in the Mexican state of Durango is reflective of the ongoing and increasingly perilous conditions faced by the media in Mexico. The disturbing number of attacks on journalists, including near media blackouts in some areas of the country, has disastrous implications for freedom of expression in the country, according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that monitors the status of freedom around the world.
The four journalists, kidnapped by unknown gunmen, are being used as pawns by their captors in order to force television stations to play video accusing local police officers of collaborating with one of the country’s many violent drug gangs. The incident exemplifies the increasing boldness with which criminal groups incorporate civilians, particularly reporters, into their brutal battles. Threats to journalists have become commonplace in parts of Mexico, particularly as the power of organized crime has expanded in recent years and despite a government offensive against criminal groups, the violence has grown exponentially.
“When the threat of violence against journalists is so great that important issues become virtually untouchable, the implications for democracy are grave,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “The Mexican government must do more to address the rampant impunity, at every level of government, that serves to encourage criminals seeking to silence journalists through violence.”
Reporters probing police issues, drug trafficking, and official corruption all face a very high risk of physical harm. As a result, self-censorship has increased, and many newspapers in high-violence zones no longer publish bylines on stories involving organized crime. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that more than 30 reporters have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, and many more have been kidnapped or threatened, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world to be a journalist.
Largely because of the violence, Mexico has experienced the greatest decline in press freedom in Latin America over the last five years, according to Freedom of the Press 2010, Freedom House’s annual survey of global press freedom.