Another chilling report from the LA Times’s “Mexico Under Siege” series, this one, by Tracy Wilkinson, focusing on what Wilkinson calls “narco-censorship.”
As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers’ chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists — who are haunted by the knowledge that they are failing in their journalistic mission of informing society.
“You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more,” said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.
“We don’t like the silence. But it’s survival.”
When convoys of narco hit men brazenly turned their guns on army garrisons in Reynosa, trapping soldiers inside, it was front- page news in the Los Angeles Times in April. It went unreported in Reynosa.
After two of his reporters were briefly detained by Zetas paramilitaries later that month in the same region, Ciro Gomez Leyva, head of Milenio television, announced he was imposing a blackout on events in Tamaulipas. “Journalism is dead” in the region, he wrote. The bruised, strangled body of Durango reporter Bladimir Antuna was recovered late last year with a scrawled note attached: “This happened to me for … writing too much.”
Wilkinson reports that “social media networks such as Twitter have filled some of the breach, with residents frantically sending danger alerts,” and that “a secretive ‘narco blog’ has started posting numerous videos of henchmen and their victims, no matter how gruesome,” though, “residents say, the social media too have been usurped by traffickers, who use the system to spread rumors and stoke panic.”
in less than six months has become Mexico’s go-to Internet site at a time when mainstream media are feeling pressure and threats to stay away from the story.
Many postings, including warnings and a beheading, appear to come directly from drug traffickers. Others depict crime scenes accessible only to military or police.
The undifferentiated content suggests that all sides are using the blog — drug gangs to project their power, law enforcement to show that it too can play rough, and the public to learn about incidents that the mainstream media are forced to ignore or play down.
The mysterious blogger hides his identity behind an elaborate cyber-screen. The Associated Press wrote to the blog’s e-mail address, and the blogger called back from a disguised phone number. He said he is a student in northern Mexico majoring in computer security, that he launched the blog in March as a “hobby,” but it now has grown to hundreds of postings a day and 3 million hits a week.
The AP noted that Blog del Narco has a Facebook page and a Twitter account “that includes CNN en Espanol, all major Mexican media, the FBI and the Mexican Defense Department among its more than 7,300 followers” (that’s 8,459 as of this writing).
Liz Cox Barrett is a freelance writer and graphic designer in Kalispell, Montana. She worked as a newspaper journalist in Denver and Kalispell for 20 years.