Monterrey attack a reminder of reporting dangers

The aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Televisa studios in Monterrey, a city that until recently was considered one of the safest in Latin America, has generated great interest locally in how the media is protecting itself. As part of the coverage, headlines in the Mexican media this morning said that journalists reporting for the station would now wear bulletproof vests. During the attack, gunmen threw a grenade at the station and shot up the building.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America, according to CPJ research. Since 2000, 24 journalists have been killed in the country; at least eight in direct reprisal for their work. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. In early 2007, drug-related violence began to spread in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s richest cities, as drug gangs, including the Gulf cartel’s enforcement arm, Los Zetas, battled for control of the city and its nearby drug route into Texas. Local reporters told CPJ that they immediately sprang into action but were quickly deterred as a two-man crew for the national broadcaster TV Azteca vanished in May of that year.

With the uptick in violence across the country, media outlets are doing what they can to protect their journalists. A spokesman for Televisa in Monterrey told CPJ today that while recent coverage has been somewhat misleading–the broadcaster’s crime reporters have been using bulletproof vests for over a year–they look to a wide array of security measures.

Every Televisa vehicle assigned to the crime beat is already equipped with a vest that the reporter can wear while on a dangerous assignment, the station’s spokesman said. The policy was implemented after one of Televisa’s reporters was caught in crossfire between drug gangs and police over a year ago, he explained. Also, the broadcaster decided to cut all investigative reporting on drug trafficking following multiple death threats to its staff in the last few years, the spokesman said.

In February 2005, Televisa had its first warning related to its reports on local crime. The network’s reporter Jorge Cardona Villegas was forced to flee Monterrey after an unidentified assailant fired several rounds of bullets at his home and car. Cardona had recently reported on the cases of several kidnapped or missing U.S. citizens in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, in the state of Tamaulipas across from the Texan city of Laredo. According to Televisa’s spokesman, only official reports on crime, and especially drug trafficking, are now aired.

On the day of the attack, Televisa’s news director in Monterrey, Francisco Cobos, told the local press that the assailants had left another warning outside the studios that read in Spanish: “Stop reporting on us. Also report on narco officials.” Over the last week, Televisa has gone through all its news footage for the past six months, but has been unable to decipher which story could have been the cause of the violence, the spokesman added.

The Mexican army and federal police were deployed to the Televisa studios and to the offices of all other media outlets in the city after the attack, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. Today, soldiers and police officers are still guarding them. However, federal authorities in Mexico City, who are in charge of the investigation, have not yet made public any leads.