Contacts: Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864, firstname.lastname@example.org Ronnie Lovler, SPJ International Journalism Committee Chairwoman, 352-871-3399, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The International Journalism Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists is calling on U.S and Mexican government officials to take stronger steps to stop drug-trafficker violence against journalists in Mexico.
SPJ has sent letters to Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarakhan Casamitjana; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; U.S. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela; and Mexican, U.S. and international journalism organizations, among others. The letter follows below.
“The community of professional journalists in Mexico is under siege, and it’s important that U.S. journalism organizations step up and support our colleagues south of the border,” said SPJ President Kevin Z. Smith. “SPJ stands by its colleagues in Mexico and openly and loudly calls on Mexican authorities to thoroughly and properly investigate crimes against reporters, and by publicizing threats to working journalists.”
Mexico is now one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism, because of the violence tied to drug trafficking. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 59 journalists have been killed on the job since 2000.
SPJ’s International Journalism Committee is aware of at least three Mexican journalists who are seeking asylum in the U.S. because of threats stemming from drug trafficking. Two journalists were killed this month for reporting on drug trafficking.
After editors and reporters have been threatened, kidnapped and killed, publishers of daily newspapers in Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez have advised SPJ that they’ve stopped reporting on some murders and drug violence, beyond what’s in police reports. In Saltillo, Coahuila, the major newspaper, Vanguardia, has said it will no longer cover drug violence. Zócalo, another newspaper in Coahuila, recently lost reporter Valentín Valdés Espinosa who was kidnapped and killed for his coverage of drugs and related crime.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
The SPJ International Journalism Committee sent the following letter on Jan. 27:
Self-censorship in Mexico is not new. Violence tied to drug trafficking, however, has applied new pressure on journalists.
Along the United States-Mexico border, some publishers have opted to look the other way when it comes to covering certain crimes in their communities. For them it’s a life-and-death decision. The number of reporters killed in the line of duty in Mexico ranks it among the most dangerous places to practice professional journalism. After editors and reporters have been threatened, kidnapped and killed, publishers of daily newspapers in Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez have advised members of SPJ's International Journalism Committee that they’ve stopped having reporters write about some murders and drug violence, beyond what’s on police reports.
The situation has deteriorated more recently. The self-censorship is spreading.
Because drug traffickers know publishers and editors are censoring themselves – avoiding particular crime stories – they have taken to calling newsrooms. They even know when editors have their coverage meetings. They've succeeded in getting some stories reported and written, others killed, and some placed in preferred locations.
This is not an emerging threat; it is a sad reality in Mexico. And as drug violence worsens so will the practice of self-censoring. SPJ is aware of at least three professional journalists who are seeking asylum in the United States because of threats. We hope that the U.S. government will take into account the extreme danger these journalists face in Mexico when considering their asylum applications.
In this environment, how long will it be before corrupt politicians and political parties adopt similar coercive manners in dealing with Mexican journalists? How long will it be before drug dealers start applying similar pressure on American journalists and media outlets north of the border?
Against armed criminals and violent drug cartels, there is little that U.S.-based journalism organizations can do to physically protect Mexican journalists. But we are aware of instances where intense attention from U.S. media has actually helped diminish threats against targeted journalists in Mexico.
Professional journalists in Mexico are under siege, and it’s important that journalism organizations step up and support them. SPJ stands by its colleagues in Mexico and openly and loudly calls on Mexican authorities to thoroughly and properly investigate crimes against reporters, and by publicizing threats to working journalists.
Kevin Smith President Society of Professional Journalists
Ronnie Lovler International Journalism Committee Chairwoman Society of Professional Journalists