The media today: In Mexico, state officials copy tactics of cartel hit men

Earlier this year, after award-winning journalist Javier Valdez was gunned down in the streets of Culiacán, The Washington Post ran an editorial titled “In Mexico, journalism is literally being killed off.” The Post’s editorial board lamented “the drug-fueled violence that has claimed tens of thousands of Mexican lives over the past decade,” and implored Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to do more to protect reporters.

Covering the country’s drug trade remains a dangerous job, but in an important piece published this morning by CJR, Seth Harp writes that the state itself has become a threat for journalists. “Today,” Harp writes, “a journalist is much more likely to be killed for criticizing the governor’s policies or exposing a mayor’s mismanagement than for writing about cartel activities.

Reporting from the state of Veracruz, Harp says the cartel-directed violence against journalists has led some to stop reporting on the drug trade, but that “self-censorship regarding the drug war hasn’t improved safety conditions in Veracruz because, beginning about six years ago, state officials started copying the tactics of cartel hit men.”

Harp’s piece includes a shocking litany of Mexican journalists killed after producing critical reporting on government figures. Rubén Espinoza, Moises Sanchez, Ricardo Monlui, Cándido Ríos Vásquez, all dead.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Mexico 147th on its Press Freedom Index, ahead of only Cuba in the Western hemisphere. In terms of physical threats, the country sits with Syria and Iraq as the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. While the narrative about that danger often focuses on cartel violence, Harp’s reporting exposes a culture of impunity where blame lays heavily at the feet of the state.

Below, more on the dangers of reporting in America’s southern neighbor.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.