Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Covering the Drug Traffickers

Gatopardo had an interesting profile of the men behind Sinaloa's muckraking Ríodoce in last month's edition (unfortunately, it's not online). It was a bit too self-reverential for my taste, but it had a number of interesting sections, among them the following:
Is the Mexican press covering the drug trade correctly?

Ismael looked at me as though he had a mentally handicapped person in front of him and he now knew where to lock him up. He then says without exaggeration:

The thing is that no one is doing it, man. Everybody talks about gunfights, they publish photos of the decapitated, or, like Milenio, they count the dead. Nothing more. Proceso is the best that does it, although they go too far on the issue. Televisa fills its news with pure violence, but they don't understand it. The same thing happens at El Universal. Reforma deals with the issue very timidly. Nobody has thorough coverage. Nobody digs, for example, on the Mérida Initiative. Why isn't anyone interested in insisting that this plan is for the United States to stick its boots in Mexico? Why do they let the gringos shit on us, piss on us, tell us that Mexico is shit and nobody questions it? In Mexico no one talked about the issue until the US did. We never take anything seriously.

Ismael returns to his cigarette. Another puff. He continues.

It's not a nationalistic position, man, it's serious. Look: no one explains what happened with Osiel Cárdenas, why did they seal his case for 25 years? Why will we see him free in three or four years? What's going on behind the scenes? An agreement? The same with JT (Javier Torres). That guy's about to get out. Ríodoce has said it, it has placed it on the table and all of those who call themselves journalists don't give a shit. The other day I was watching Tercer Grado. All bullshit, nothing serious. There's not even real interest in understanding the phenomenon of the narco. In Nexos, for example, I read a report that a writer did about Arturo Beltrán Leyva; he just copied what had already been printed. That's not understanding drug traffic, that's bullshit.

Do you think there's a war against drugs?

This isn't a war, a war is something else, this is a badly planned fight. The incredible thing is even Calderón recognizes that it's wrong and he keeps doing the same thing; well, what does the guy want?
I think his understanding of the US's goals in the Mérida Initiative is misguided, but the section about who's covering drug smuggling is interesting. I take the criticism to mean that no one is doing much investigative reporting on drug traffic, but rather repeating the government press releases, which is something I've mentioned before. It's hard to knock the press for doing that, because the threats to their well-being for digging deeper are very real, as the dozens of dead reporters in the past decade demonstrates. Some journalists are willing to live with the risk and walk the fine line (something they talk about in the story with regard to the rules for reporting on drugs), but most reporters would understandably calculate that no news story is worth their life. If there was a genuine commitment to punishing those who threaten the press, it would free those reporters who aren't risk junkies but just competent professionals to practice the kind of journalism that Ríodoce does.

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