While many mainstream media outlets in the U.S. regularly self-censor their news coverage to further a political agenda or to avoid controversy, editors and journalists across the border in Mexico are facing a much more dire ethical dilemma: stop reporting on organized crime or face death.
Many have taken that risk and as a result at least 81 journalists have been murdered in Mexico from 2000 to 2012 and another 14 have disappeared, according to Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights.
Many media outlets in Mexico are under constant threat from ruthless drug cartels, who are fighting each other for control of various regions of the country. They aim to intimidate and silence their opponents through unspeakable acts of violence and by threatening and or bribing local officials and other influential figures.
Fearing one of their own employees could be marked for death, some news organizations have given up the fight and are no longer reporting at all on drug cartels and organized crime in Mexico.
University of Arizona Assistant Professor Celeste Gonzalez, who has been researching the working conditions for journalists living in Mexico, explained to The Monitor that working as a reporter in Mexico is like working in a U.S. designated war zone.
"Journalists and newsroom editors are making up the rules as they go along in order to stay alive," Gonzalez told The Monitor. "Journalists in Mexico are experiencing unprecedented levels of violence and repression, and it appears that in the run-up to the presidential election, the violence in various parts of the country and the repression against journalists and human rights workers has intensified."
Consider this: In May alone, the mutilated bodies of five journalists have been found in Mexico and shootings rocked the offices of two separate newspapers.
A brief recap of violence against journalists so far this month – and May isn't over yet:
On May 18 the tortured body of a kidnapped Mexican reporter was found in a black plastic bag on the side of the road in northern Mexico in the state of Sonora, a day after he was kidnapped by gunmen while at a car wash.
The reporter, 39-year-old Marco Antonio Avila Garcia, was married and was a father to three small children. Police reportedly found a message signed by a cartel but did not release it to the public. Avila covered stories about police and organized crime for the paper El Regional de Sonora.
On May 13 – less than a week before Avila's body was discovered – police found Rene Orta Salgado, who had been strangled to death, stuffed in his own trunk. He had quit his job as a reporter at El Sol de Cuernavaca newspaper in January. A motive for the killing was never provided.
On May 3, the dismembered, mutilated bodies of three Mexican photojournalists – Gabriel Huge, Guillermo Luna Varela and Esteban Rodriguez – were found in plastic bags dumped in a waste canal in Boca del Rio, Mexico.
Other local photographers protested the killings by hanging their cameras outside of Veracruz state's representative:
Finally, on May 7, gunfire tore through two newspapers in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas, but thankfully no one was killed in the attack. In response to the shooting one of the newspapers declared defeat and announced they would no longer cover organized crime in Mexico.
The Monitor has more on the shootings:
One of the shootings, May 7 in Reynosa, targeted the offices of Hora Cero. No injuries were reported, but just four days later, El Mañana de Nuevo Laredo was shot at by another group of unknown gunmen.
Soon after the attack, El Mañana ran an editorial stating it would stop publishing stories about organized crime.
El Mañana is run by Ninfa Deandar, while Hora Cero is run by her relative, Heriberto Deandar Robinson. It remains unclear if the attack at both publications was targeted at a specific news article, the newspapers or the Deandar family.
Keep in mind, these instances are just from the past month. I doubt any journalist who is still breathing hasn't gotten the memo.
When journalists are threatened or killed – many times as a result fear or corruption – authorities routinely fail to protect them or properly investigate and prosecute crimes committed against them. Cases go unsolved and people literally get away with murder.
Due to this unfortunately reality, Mexico is now facing the prospect of drug cartels operating freely with absolutely no oversight by news media and a compromised police force at best.
"We're living in madness," an editor of a Veracruz newspaper told The Associated Press, on the condition of anonymity due to concerns for his safety.
The same editor said he found himself caught in the middle of a feud between two cartels, the Zetas and the New Generation, who were fighting for control of territory in Veracruz. While the Zetas urged him to publish news about the killings of Sinola soldiers, the New Generation – a cartel based in Jalisco and affiliated with the powerful Sinola cartel – threatened him to bury the reports.
He also told The AP that the groups even had a media relations teams, who actually e-mailed editors entire stories for them to publish.
Mexico's drug cartels obviously understand that if they can control the media they can not only shape the perceptions of their enemies, but the rest of the world as well.
The only question left is: Are there any Mexican journalists still alive who will risk their lives to stand up to the murderous cartels?