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Mexico21 June 2005

Murder, impunity and self-censorship : frontier journalists in a pitiless landscape

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On 22 June 2004, Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, co-founder and editorialist on the weekly Zeta, was murdered in Tijuana, Lower California State, in the north-west. His killing was the lowest point in a black year for the press in Mexico in which five journalists were murdered.

But his death prompted a growing realisation of the magnitude of the problem within a journalistic community with little tradition for sticking together and above all led the federal government to take over investigations of murders of journalists.

One year after the still unsolved murder of Ortiz Franco, there has been little improvement in the plight of Mexican journalists. In particular in the coastal and border states with the USA, blighted by drug-trafficking, corruption and violence. The year 2005 began tragically with one disappearance and two murders of journalists during the first week of April.

Alfredo Jiménez Mota of the daily El Imparcial in Hermosillo (Sonora, north-west), has been missing without trace since the night of 2 April. On 5 April, radio journalist Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla was gunned down in front of the headquarters of Stereo 91 XHNOE in Nuevo Laredo (Tamaulipas, north-east). She died of her injuries on 16 April. On 8 April, the editor of the daily La Opinión Raúl Gibb Guerrero was murdered in Veracruz State in the east of the country. These three cases brought to 16 the number of journalists murdered since 2000. And in every case, there was no investigation worth the name leading to the instigators, thus establishing a climate of complete impunity.

How do journalists deal with this violent landscape in Mexico’s border areas? Do they end up resorting to self-censorship to protect themselves? Are local and national media exposed to the same level of risk? Why have investigations into killings of journalists not produced any results? In the search for a reply to all these questions, Reporters Without Borders carried out an on-the-spot investigation from 22-31 May 2005, in the border towns of Tijuana Nuevo Laredo, and Mexico. The organisation’s representatives met local journalists, national media journalists, representatives of the police and judicial authorities, including, state deputy prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos. The investigation allowed them to assess the major failings of the public authorities at all three levels: municipal, state and federal. These failings will not ease a volatile presidential campaign building for July 2006.

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