Nowhere in the Americas is it more dangerous to practice journalism than in Mexico. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, twenty-one journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, seven of them in direct reprisal for their work. Those deaths, and the many other assaults that are a constant threat to Mexican journalists, mirror a rising trend of drug-related violence in the country.
Earlier this month, Columbia’s Journalism School hosted a conference, “Scared Silent: Mexican Journalists Under Attack by Drug Mafias,” to foster awareness of the threat Mexican journalists face in their work and to increase cooperation among those who are trying to aid them. Sponsored by the Knight Foundation, the conference brought many journalists to Columbia University from Mexico to provide a safe venue for discussion and to meet their U.S. counterparts.
Delivering the keynote address at that event was Alejandro Junco de la Vega, president of Grupo Reforma, which publishes seven daily papers in Mexico, among them outlets in Mexico’s three largest cities: Mexico City (Reforma), Guadalajara (Mural) and Monterrey (El Norte). The publishing conglomerate, and its president, have been instrumental factors in the evolution of journalism in Mexico. And the powerful speech Junco delivered highlighted not only the many challenges Mexico’s press faces, but also his abiding faith in the power of truth to effect change.
You can listen to audio of the speech here; the transcript of the talk is below. We found it compelling, and we hope you do, too.
“Scared Silent” Keynote Address
by Alejandro Junco de la Vega
Ladies and gentlemen,
You will often see people being interviewed on T.V. There was an explosion, or a train wreck, or some other kind of terrifying ordeal. The people interviewed will sometimes tell the reporter that their scary experience was “just like the movies.”
The implication I take from that, is that for many people, day to day life does not feel “just like the movies.”
I wish I could say the same.
Perhaps you have seen some of these movies; on one of them we even appeared: Man on Fire. Traffic. Godfather. Scarface.
And you may also know the clever T.V. drama, Weeds. The most recent series took its heroine south of the border and into the arms of a wealthy, urbane, blood-drenched politician whose drug ring was carrying vast quantities of narcotics and weapons across the border.
If you watched it, you must surely have flinched, to see his men, take to the face of an F.B.I. agent with a power tool, and then summarily shoot him the moment his agonized confession had been extracted.
You may have watched the story unfolding, and may have wondered if it was fanciful; exaggerated.
I wish it were so.
Mix the elements of that T.V. show and all those movies – together – in one noxious, toxic cocktail, and you will have a pretty good taste of Mexico as it is today.
Ladies and gentlemen, from what I heard and I can see, from the program ahead of us, that you will be hearing a dispiriting litany of the problems that beset us. It has come in great detail.
As it all unfolds, you could be forgiven for thinking that the problem is intractable. I will confess to pessimism myself; I cannot say I am confident that we will easily, or soon, awaken from our nightmare.
But I remain confident in the capacity of people to change. This is the context of my remarks.
I want to begin with the very personal and move out to the very broad.
You are being well-served by expert commentators today. They bring hard data and precise details. I only want to provide a context for it.
You might have been feeling in recent weeks, with so much talk about economic turmoil, and memories of the Great Depression, that things could not possibly be more grim.
Let me tell you: as bad as that spectre might be … it can be worse.
It can be worse when teenagers are kidnapped and murdered by people who drive police cars and wear badges and police guns.
It can be worse when intimidation can be presented in the form of a decapitated head on the hood of a car … when the City Morgue can have 80 corpses waiting in line because four doctors can’t keep up with the autopsies.
It can be worse when 5-year-old-children can paint colorful scenes of executions instead of puppies and clouds … when grenades are thrown into newsrooms.
It can be worse when you find no-one willing to take the job of Mayor because of a the sentence of intimidation and, possibly, death, that it carries.