Mexico’s provincial journalists are a largely neglected and unprotected group, with the problems of the capital Mexico City dominating the media and public notice. Those working in the provinces struggle to get access to the information they need.
Broadcaster Lucano Romero Cárcamo is the maker of ‘Que calle el silencio’, Break the Silence, a series of radio programmes based on the testimony of three reporters and his own experiences. Romero is threatened and intimidated by people who don’t want him to make certain information available. This results, he says, in a self-censorship which is a “cancer” in Mexican society.
Dare to publish
Journalist Coral Méndez Mendo agrees in the programme that self-censorship as a response to violence or the threat of violence is widespread among Mexican journalists. “Freedom of expression suffers because as you write, you’re asking yourself: should I say this or not?”
Mexico’s journalists work under extreme pressure and feel extremely vulnerable – and rightly so. “We have no free speech in Mexico but straightforward repression” declares journalist Vicencio Ortiz Libreros in Break the silence. In 2009 he was kidnapped and assaulted by a group of police officers in Puebla State when he supported someone who wanted to lodge a complaint against the force.
Raymundo Pérez also knows from his own experience just what an easy target journalists are: “I felt cold steel against my head as they warned: we don’t want anyone from the press here, that attracts too much attention”. The threat was uttered by one of his kidnappers, a member of a gang of drug dealers in Tamaulipas province.
“We journalists are under fire from two directions: the government and organised crime. Both sides put us under pressure, both sides kidnap journalists” says Romero Cárcamo.
Most of those who work in the media live in a near permanent state of fear. It’s in the interests of both the drugs mafia and some politicians that journalists don’t dare to publish or broadcast everything they discover. Darío Ramírez is director of Artículo 19, an NGO that fights for press freedom in Central America. He confirms the difficulties faced by journalists; “The press in Mexico’s provinces is especially vulnerable to attacks by organised crime or the authorities who threaten journalists”.
But despite the risks they face, journalists are determined to keep working. Many of them, like Vicencio Ortiz, see it as a calling: “I’ll keep going. I don’t know for how long. Maybe one day people will say: Vicencio is no longer with us. But that’s the risk of journalism”.
It’s not only up to the government to guarantee press freedom and freedom of information; it’s also the duty of the public to stand up for journalists who want to publish the truth believes Lucano Romero. “Break the silence applies to everyone”,he says.