Self-censorship—the main danger

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The main reason is the drug wars between criminal organisations. “Some people say that being a journalist in this country is only a viable option for those who are ‘willing to commit suicide’”, the newly graduated journalist Gabriella Isabel writes under pseudonym. In this article she explains why she chose this profession.  

April 17 2012 Text and translation from Spanish: Gabriella Isabel

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The main reason is bloody drug wars between criminal organisations. “Some people say that being a journalist in this country is only a viable option for those who are ‘willing to commit suicide’”, the newly graduated journalist Gabriella Isabel writes under pseudonym. In this article she explains why she chose this profession.  

Much has been said about the current situation of journalism in Mexico, and about those people who are brave enough to still exercise it. Some people say that being a journalist in this country is only a viable option for those who are “willing to commit suicide”, some others ask if it’s worth risking their lives even when one cannot even earn enough money to live a modest life, and worse, those who assure that journalists talking about “certain people” threaten not only their life but their family as well.

I just finished my degree on journalism in Mexico City. I remember since I entered college my family always questioned my decision: “Are you sure you want to do this for the rest of your life? You could also study architecture or biology,” my parents would tell me. Years passed, and they realized that there are people who have a need to write about what is happening in their country, and their daughter was one of them. Soon they changed their type of comments for something like: “Well, if you want to be journalist it is okay, you have our support, all we ask for you is that you write only about culture or sports, anything that is not related to people who are dangerous to write about”. In short, do not mess with those who should not to be identified.

And this was when I began to wonder who these untouchable people were? Who were those that we “had to respect” and should not be touching not even with the strokes of our pens? Who gave them that right? Well, the answers are simple: people are afraid to question powerful ones, and they are thought to pretend that nothing is happening. Keep a blind eye to their actions, those who wound with a stake and bloodshed the entire nation. This is the same right we have given them, all of us who remain indifferent to a nation articulated at the very root of corruption.

In Mexico it is especially dangerous to be part of that group of journalists who cover crime, corruption, murder and drug trafficking. Those who write about events occurring in any of these areas are the same who put the rope around their own neck, they live in mortal danger that is latent not only for them, but also for their beloved ones.

Mexico: The most dangerous Latin American country to practice journalism
Article 19, the organization devoted to defending the rights of journalists and freedom of expression, says that in Mexico the danger for those who write not only comes from drug cartels as journalists should also be aware of the state, who has become complicit in violence against the press in the country.

We are living in red numbers, in a “democracy” where our life is crumbling in front of our eyes, where numbers speak for themselves: last year, in 2011, there were 172 assaults related to the exercise of press freedom. Nine murders of journalists. Two murders of media workers. Two disappearances of journalists and eight attacks with guns or explosives against facilities of newspapers.

Among the provinces that had the highest number of journalists and media attacked were Veracruz (with 29 attacks), Mexico City (21), Chihuahua (15), Coahuila (15) and Oaxaca (11).

Last year, at an international summit on environment I covered, I remember meeting a very nice female journalist, who worked for a well-respected national newspaper. When I told her that I was starting my career as a journalist, she often repeated the same words: “You should not get into this business. You're young; you can still change the course of your career. This is an ungrateful profession, people have no memory, and it is not worth risking your life”.

Despite the alarming figures already mentioned, I should mention that there is even a greater danger. Is one that is brewing within each hero of the words, which hurts from the bones and it keeps on growing, and grows and grows to freeze all of our actions: I am referring to self-censorship.

We realize that Mexico it is not only risky to speak about certain people, but a direct consequence from this danger is the lack of support and justice towards journalists. We become investigations that are afraid of researching; the country is lacking deep information on these issues that are breaking Mexico’s back.

Editors and publishers of local newspapers have confessed to apply self-censorship in their media for death threats, as it is preferable for them to sacrifice some information rather than the life of a human being. And if this information comes to light, then there is no record, and corruption is still in his great golden throne, unconcerned that one day transparency and fairness will become stronger.

It is also said to be published minimum information following this issues, as another important factor to this bleak picture is bribery. Sadly, there are many journalists who make a note in favour of the powerful, in exchange for a meal at a cheap restaurant, or for a check with more than one zero on it. Money flows in local political campaigns, among the police, drug cartels and governmental institutions. It pays not only not to investigate, rather, for a simulation of research.

This is the scene that I am confronting today, now that I finish my degree: discouraging and with many challenges, but at the same time, I also see opportunity for change. My readers might ask if in any moment I had some thoughts of changing my career, maybe to one that is more suitable, to another one that perhaps could be simpler and more profitable. I have thought of it, of course, but then I must confess to you that when you are born to be a journalist, or to be a writer, there is a feeling you get that comes from your very blood, right in your veins, which runs through your whole being and is always a part of you. Sentiments of curiosity and justice that cannot be hidden.

Yes, there is danger and corruption in this country, but there are also people who are willing to change this picture. To give their life for other people to open their eyes, leaving behind that apathy that surrounds them, and convincing them that democracy and fairness in Mexico, and all around the world, are possible. Just as Joseph Pulitzer said: “The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the jo