The border city of Tijuana, where drug-related violence left almost a thousand people dead in 2008, has had a
strong military presence since the government of President Felipe Calderón
deployed the Mexican army to fight powerful drug cartels. It can be
felt in the streets. While we were driving to the Zeta offices, where we would
launch our book yesterday, two Humvees packed with heavily armed military personnel
passed us on Aguascalientes
Boulevard, the main street in this thriving city.
I arrived with Chicago Tribune columnist and CPJ board
member Clarence Page at the offices at 11:30 a.m. Zeta, a Tijuana-based weekly newsmagazine,
had worked through every detail to organize a press conference for the launch of Attacks on the
Press. A team headed by Leticia Garza and Claudia Kennedy had set up
a podium in the middle of the newsroom featuring CPJ's logo and a big image of
the book's cover.
In my last visit to Tijuana,
in 2004 with CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, we investigated the murder of Zeta editor Francisco Ortiz
Franco, who was gunned down in broad daylight in front of his two children
by hit men working for the Arellano Félix drug cartel. We met with J. Jesús Blancornelas, the
founder of the newsmagazine and one of the most courageous journalists I have ever
met. Blancornelas, still shocked by the murder of his friend and colleague,
told us that despite the price the magazine's staff had paid for their investigative work
on drug trafficking, they would not give up. Blancornelas died of natural
causes in November 2006.
While journalists arrived for the press conference, we waited
in a small conference room where Zeta's top editors meet to discuss the
magazine's news coverage. The room, which overlooks the street, has bulletproof
walls and windows. A phrase engraved into one of the wall reads: "It is better
to miss a story than to lose our credibility."
According to CPJ 2007 International Press Freedom Award
recipient Adela Navarro
Bello, Zeta's editor, 57 reporters--including cameramen and photographers--representing
41 media outlets were present at the press conference. The room was crammed
with journalists, cameras, and tape recorders. Seven television networks,
including the Mexican national networks Televisa and TV Azteca, the Miami-based
Telemundo, KPBS from San Diego,
and a number of Tijuana-based TV stations were there. Also present were
reporters from The Associated Press
and Reuters, as well as correspondents for the national dailies El Universal
and Reforma, and the newsweekly Proceso.
Navarro did a brief introduction, expressing gratitude to
CPJ for having selected Zeta and Tijuana
as one of the cities for Attacks' global launch. She urged congressional
leaders to promptly debate and approve a bill that will federalize
crimes against freedom of expression, which is now under consideration by the
Justice Committee of the Chamber of Deputies.
Clarence Page gave a general overview of the book and talked
about the deterioration of conditions for the press in Mexico in the
last four years. When it was my turn, I took the opportunity to express CPJ's
solidarity with all Mexican journalists, especially those who work under threat
of violence while covering dangerous assignments. Journalists were curious hy Mexico has become so dangerous for the
media, and how the country ranked in the Americas and the rest of the world.
CPJ research showed that 24 journalists have been killed there since 2000, at
least eight in direct reprisal for their work. Additionally, seven journalists
have disappeared since 2005.
There were quite a few questions related to the emergence of
online journalism and the jailing of reporters who work for online publications
and blogs. Reporters also asked about protection for freelance journalists, who
are more vulnerable to attacks in Mexico without than those who work for established news organizations. They expressed concern
about the complicity between criminal organizations and Mexican officials, and
how that affects investigations of violence against journalists. There was
also criticism of the federal prosecutor who investigates crimes against the
press, who played down the severity of the situation during a recent press
conference in Mexico City.
Read Clarence Page's entry on the event, "Reporting in a free-fire zone,"
on his blog at the Chicago Tribune's