01/20/14 (written by petrichk) — The disappearance of a Mexican journalist and the recent claims of journalist censorship in the nation’s capital have highlighted the continued vulnerability of the Mexican media. Journalist Zoila Márquez Chiu disappeared December 7, 2013 while on her way to return videos to a local store in Zacatecas. Three weeks later, after a high profile search the journalist reappeared unharmed at her home, but still with no explanation and no reports of a ransom demand. Her disappearance garnered major attention including the creation of a social media campaign backed by 140 reporters and editors demanding her safe return; her employer, Línea Informativa de Zacatecas, stopping their publication in protest; and the governor of Zacatecas ordering a multiagency search for the missing woman. Her reappearance coincided with a press event held by her parents in which they disputed security footage released by the state’s attorney general, Arturo Nahle García. A private expert hired by the couple found that the video did not show their missing daughter but rather a taller, unidentified woman driving Márquez’s missing car.
Márquez, the mother of two, has not spoken publicly about her disappearance, despite her position as a reporter for Línea Informativa de Zacatecas. Her silence has raised questions about the veracity of her kidnapping and if the government is pressuring her into self-censorship. Reporters Without Borders released a statement expressing skepticism of the official report, criticizing its vague reassurances that Márquez suffered no injuries as a result of her captivity while failing to provide any details regarding the investigation. Additionally, Márquez’s parents, who were highly outspoken during her absence, are now refusing to speak publicly about their daughter, raising questions of undue influence. In contrast, a local newspaper, Zacatecas en Imagen, claimed Márquez had voluntarily fled to Mexico City due to a marital dispute.
Violence against journalists in Mexico is nothing new, and Márquez’s case fits in the environment of insecurity and danger faced by members of the media. Media outlet Veracruzanos.info reports that 2013 registered three journalists disappeared (including Márquez) in Mexico, and six more killed. Meanwhile, the Women’s Communication and Information Service (Comunicación e Información de Mujeres, CIMAC) documented 36 cases of aggression against all media workers in Mexico, 17 of which were against journalists. Nevertheless, the Mexican government responded to the United Nation’s October 2013 Universal Periodic Review that it was making progress in its protections for media workers, reporting that it had concluded 374 investigations of violence against journalists that occurred between January 1, 2009 and September 30, 2013, as well as approved 172 measures of preventative protection and support for at-risks journalists. Still violence against journalists continue, as exemplified by Márquez’s recent case, and is resulting in censorship and a quieted press.
Although some areas in Mexico have already dealt with pressure and threats from organized crime groups to manipulate the press into publishing what it wants, reports are coming out that Mexico City is now falling victim to such influence. Journalist Mike O’Connor, an advocate for journalists’ protections in Mexico who worked for the Committee to Protect Journalists before his passing in December 2013, reported in his last article that armed groups are now controlling the press in the outskirts of Mexico City, specifically the city of Nezahualcóyotl. Reporters in the area acknowledge that they are threatened by cartels and that if they want to stay alive, they must cater to writing what the cartels want, or do not want, published. Meanwhile, the city’s new mayor, Juan Zepeda Hernández, admitted his administration could not protect the reporters who cover the cartels and their crimes, therefore limiting their reports. Said journalist Mireya Cuellar of La Jornada on watching cartels advance towards Mexico City and not being able to cover the related stories, “[The cartels] aren’t knocking on the door of the capital any longer. They are in the kitchen now, and we can’t tell anyone that they’re here.” She continued, “Your correspondent may be at least abducted or beaten or even killed. Apparently there is no government that can protect you.”
As detailed in a 2013 working paper by University of San Diego Professor Emily Edmonds-Poli, “The Effects of Drug-War Related Violence on Mexico’s Press and Democracy,” Mexico is currently one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Deaths, disappearances, and threats of violence from both drugs cartels and government agencies have combined to inhibit the freedom of the press in the country. As Edmonds-Poli noted, “In many areas, local (and state) governments, together with criminal organizations have established control of press coverage in order to prevent federal authorities from intervening in the plaza and disrupting business. The practical effect of these alliances is widespread self-censorship by the press.” The long-term ramifications of a censored press are significant, including the deterioration of democracy, a weakening of public oversight, and increasing levels of corruption, the paper explains. The media plays a vital ‘watchdog’ role in a healthy democracy, ensuring citizens are aware of current events and able to make informed decisions regarding elections, public security, and other vital elements of civil society.
An interesting development arising from the limitations of the professional press is the increasing trend of ‘crowd sourced’ social media reporting via Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms, which Justice in Mexico covered in 2012 after the newspaper El Norte was forced to close due to heavy weapons attacks on their offices. Over the past 18 months, social media reporting has continued to rise, with many events being covered in real time, or ‘live tweeted’ by witnesses. These reports serve to help shore up the gaps created by journalistic pressures as well as warning the community about ongoing safety hazards like gun battles.