Editor & Publisher has posted the latest in a spate of articles outlining the difficulties faced by Mexican and American journalists reporting in Juárez and other cartel-dominated cities just south of the border. Written by Joseph J. Kolb, editor of The Gallup Herald in Gallup, New Mexico, the piece is stuffed full of sobering statistics—24 journalists killed because of their work since 1992, a figure complicated by bloggers and freelancers who do not necessarily fit neatly into the definition of “journalist”—and stories of journalists too afraid to fully report on the cartels for fear of retribution. It’s worth a read for those stories alone.
(Earlier this year, CJR assistant editor Lauren Kirchner spoke to Alfredo Corchado, a foreign correspondent covering Mexico for The Dallas Morning News, about many of the same issues. That interview can be found here.)
Interestingly, the US press is held just as accountable for the lack of quality Mexico reporting as the more hamstrung Mexican media in Kolb’s report. Mike O’Connor, a veteran war reporter now with the CPJ, argues that the media might be institutionally biased against reporting on the problem of Mexican violence, while others say a lack of necessary skills and resources is what is holding US journalists back from digging deeper into the story.
[O’Connor] contends that there may even be a sense of institutional racism or geographic ignorance that keeps the reporting from and about Mexico on a cursory level. There is a sense that covering Mexico is not as glamorous as covering the war on terror.
There are academics and activists in close proximity to both sides of the border who believe this lack of reporting in the U.S. contributes to a poor understanding of the immigration issue as well as the implications the narco violence has on the United States.
But what Moira Murphy, Ph.D., professor of Latin American and Border Studies at UTEP, sees is more of a lack of understanding of the culture and language. She believes that in order for American media outlets to successfully cover the situation in Mexico, they need to have reporters with bilingual training and not rely solely on interpreters. Sometimes things do get lost in the translation. Or unwary reporters may be told what the interpreter wants them to hear.
“This lack of bilingual training and foreign studies training, and not just Spanish, can hamper the international perspective of disseminating information,” Murphy said.
It’s encouraging to see E&P covering the issue of journalism in Mexico and the dangers and limitations journalists face when reporting there. Like the violence in that country, the role of journalists in Mexico is an often underreported phenomenon and one deserving of more attention than it gets. It is also, like the violence, a phenomenon that doesn’t stop at the border. From Kolb’s piece:
In June 2008, Emilio Gutierrez Soto fled his home after it was raided by Mexican soldiers. Gutierrez Soto had written stories critical of the military. Getting the message, he crossed the border with this son and was placed in an immigration detention center in El Paso for seven months. He has been heralded as an example of what journalists in the embattled country endure. He had an initial hearing in El Paso for asylum consideration on Jan. 21, but the U.S. attorney fought tooth and nail to oppose it. The case is continued until May 9, 2012 when a decision is hoped to be rendered.
“I feel like a man without a country,” Gutierrez Soto said through an interpreter. “I don’t have a Plan B.”