Border newspaper stops covering cartels after repeated attacks

Los Angeles Times | Committee to Protect Journalists | Texas Observer | Wired

Escalating cartel violence in Mexico has led to bouts of self-censorship among journalists fearing reprisals, but few so prominently as Nuevo Laredo’s El Mañana, which has decided to quit reporting on local cartel violence altogether.

The Los Angeles Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes that since the paper’s editor Roberto Mora Garcia was killed in 2004, there have been a number of attacks on the paper’s journalists and offices, leading to the extreme measure.

Two years later, armed men shot up the Nuevo Laredo office, leaving a reporter paralyzed. Afterward, the paper installed bulletproof glass and fortified walls.

A year ago this month, men again shot into the office with assault rifles and tossed a homemade grenade into the building. No one was injured.

… Ramon Cantú Deándar, the paper’s director general, said, “We won’t allow ourselves to be intimidated.” Soon afterward, El Mañana backed down, announcing plans in an editorial to “abstain, for as long as necessary, from publishing any information that is related to violent conflicts which our city and other regions of the country suffer from,” citing “lack of conditions to freely exercise journalism.”

Readers of the 16,000-circulation paper, which is also distributed in Laredo, Texas, just across the border, say they have noticed the change. But even those unhappy with the changes don’t feel free to speak up about it. “There’s no freedom of speech in Nuevo Laredo — if they write the truth, they kill them,” one El Mañana reader — who spoke anonymously — told the Times of the cartels.

The media troubles in Mexico have been receiving a lot of attention on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border; In 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a lengthy special report called Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press detailing the extent of either self-censorship or media control by the cartels through fear. CPJ says 14 journalists have been killed between 2006 and 2012 alone, with another 12 going missing, according to the Times, which has compiled a list of its own coverage here.

To counteract such drastic measures, some journalists have taken to Twitter to get the word out on cartel violence. Texas Observer reporter Melissa del Bosque, KGBT-TV interactive manager Sergio Chapa and University of Texas-Brownsville professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera discussed such work at a South by Southwest panel in March of this year. Watch the first of six parts here.

That isn’t a completely safe strategy, either; Bravery for Tamaulipas, a cartel watchdog group covering the state in which Nuevo Laredo is located, closed its Twitter and Facebook accounts for no apparent reason. Wired’s Robert Beckhusen did point out, however, that the cartels had offered a $46,000 bounty for the man in charge of the sites.

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