Friday, December 31, 2010

Dilemma for 2011 (and 2012, 2013, et cetera)

This recent back and forth from the pages of Milenio about the media treatment of insecurity continue an ongoing dispute in Mexico, and make a fitting way to end the year. First, Héctor Aguilar:
The state of Rio de Janeiro and its capital city have one tenth of the inhabitants of Mexico. To equal Rio's violence, Mexico would have to have had since 2003 roughly 420,000 homicides, 80,000 civilians killed by the police for resisting them and 320,000 disappeared.

What have the authorities in Rio, the media outlets, and the Brazilian government done with the violence? They have obtained a historic triumph: they have made the city the host of the World Cup to be held in 2014. And for Brazil, the host of the Olympics in 2016. [For the record, he has it backwards here; the Olympics will be in Rio, while the World Cup is nationwide.]

In the last seven years there have been some 35,000 homicides associated with drug trafficking and the war that the state started with these gangs in Mexico.

What have the media outlets and the Mexican government done with these figures, ten percent of those of Rio?

We have sent to the rest of the world the idea that Mexico is a violent nation, more dangerous than Iraq, unsafe for investment and for tourism, a threat for its citizens, with a government defeated by crime and a population convinced that the war against crime has already been lost.

Is Rio selling a lie, the disguise of a bloody and uninhabitable city that hides its hellholes to trick tourists? No, it's selling a marvelous city that has a problem with endemic violence that doesn't stop if from functioning as the great city that it is. It puts an accent on its greatness, not its miseries.

What are we selling? What have we already sold? The idea of a country chocked by violence, nothing else. Hand out the blame however you like: collectively, we have behaved very foolishly.
And in response, Ciro Gómez:
Before taking my portion of foolishness and continuing my life in tranquility, I'll have to at least ask him, Why have we been so foolish?

Why have we been so brutally sensationalistic? Why has marketing failed us? Is kidnapping and extortion, which are spreading, softened by the marketing geniuses? Or can they be brushed under the rug with an agreement about media integrity?

What about Tamaulipas in this foolishness? What is the daily life, beyond the numbers, in Ciudad Juárez and Gómez Palacio? Are Monterrey and Michoacán journalistic exaggerations, media immorality, awful public relations strategies?
Both make irrefutable points, but I think the goal is more than anything to find an appropriate place on the spectrum between the two extremes of Pollyanna-ism on one end, and willful cynicism and defeatism on the other. As a whole, Mexico is closer to the latter extreme, and would benefit if 2011 brought a shift toward Aguilar's point of view.


jd said...

I tried to follow that exchange a couple weeks back but gave up. The premise is dumb. The international press is still happy to cover Rio crime stories. The fact is that even though Rio's problems are still massive, the trajectory is toward improvement. As is the case for Brazil as a whole. Contrasted with Mexico's obviously worsened security situation and the much more difficult economic environment over the past few years, the differing narratives are, more or less, correct. There may be plenty to bitch about with respect to Mexico's self-marketing and self-confidence, but contrasting with Brazil isn't very illuminating (and Gomez's purely Mex-prismed response isn't much help either).

PS Speaking of natural pessimists: Go Steelers (until we get to Foxboro).

And happy new year...

pc said...

Likewise. I'm expecting big things from 2011.

And don't go overlooking the Colts!!

I think the incessant focus on Brazil as the terrain for the argument is a bit odd and not particularly enlightening, but I am interested in the debate about how much attention the media should give to crime stories and what tone they should use. I dont agree that Mexican individuals and news outlets themselves are foolish for focusing on it, exactly, although Im not sure Aguilar does either (hence the lack of blame handed to individuals). After all, individually, virtually all the crime stories are newsworthy and interesting, even if they are of limited national impact (i.e. la Pelirroja from Monterrey this week and last). But the impact of all the attention as a whole is negative, or better said has a significant negative side effect, and Mexico would be better off were it lessened.

jd said...

Agree that the tone and quantity are interesting issues for the domestic press. As far as alternative stories or self-presentation, however, the essential problem is that you need actual good news, and good NEW news at that, if you want to counteract "if it bleeds, it leads." Successful forestry management models and the world's biggest chimichanga will only garner so many stories. Mexico's status as, despues de todo, a generally awesome country ain't gonna cut it for either the domestic or international press.

At least for this week, I'm a Colts fan inasmuch as I'd rather play them than Baltimore in Round 2. The Chiefs would be the greatest gift of all, obviously, but Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs are bigger badasses than Nnamdi Asomugha and Richard Seymour, and we saw what happened to Matt Cassel the other day.

pc said...

There's no question that there is a lot of truth to that, which is why I think it's hard to fault individual news organizations. Though I think there could also be more detailed political reporting like what you see on PBS or in the NY Times; not a lot of that here. That's not good news, per se, but it's useful info for the public to know and it gets short shrift in my opinion. Anyway, even though I dont think you can say Media Outlet X is guilty for writing story X, the overall effect is nonetheless pernicious, and it feeds a sense of and fear and cynicism. Confronted with all of these outlets doing these types of stories, I think it becomes hard for consumers of media to maintain a sense of perspective about what Mexico really is confronting, and it helps build this idea of the narco as 10-foot super men.

RE Colts vs. Ravens, I'd rather play Flacco, even this year, than Manning and the Colts. Jury's still out on him in the fourth quarter.