Beheadings and murders of police would seem like ideal grist for opportunistic news organizations. So why are some parts of the Mexican press staying silent during the recent savage fighting between drug cartels? Because they themselves are in the crosshairs. The most recent victim was the newspaper Cambio Sonora, published in Hermosillo, the capital of the state of Sonora. Violence--including two grenade attacks on its offices-- caused the newspaper to announce on May 24 that it was temporarily shutting down. Seven journalists have been murdered in Mexico since October, mostly in retaliation for reporting on the drug cartels. And two television reporters covering the crisis went missing this month.
In some places, like the bloodied border city of Nuevo Laredo, frightened media simply avoid covering the violence. But Cambio Sonora is the first paper to close. "It's huge," says Carlos Lauria, Americas coordinator for the New York--based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "It points up the inability of the Mexican authorities to provide security in the face of this threat."
The crisis also proves how successful the strategy of terrorist intimidation has been. The CPJ, in fact, is investigating a growing number of reports about Mexican journalists who have become well-paid "publicists" for one cartel or the other--inserting material into their newspapers or broadcasts, for example, that can burnish a kingpin's image or tarnish that of a rival.
Since taking office last December, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has deployed almost 25,000 army troops to battle the cartels. So far, the bloodshed has only escalated. And now, there are fewer people left to honestly report what's happening on the ground.