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Threatened Mexican Newspaper Group to End Organized Crime Reporting

MEXICO / 12 MAR 2013 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

A newspaper group in northern Mexico has declared it will no longer report on organized crime, becoming the latest media outlet to admit that it has been silenced by Mexico's drug war.

Zocalo, which publishes editions in four cities in the state of Coahuila, announced in an editorial: "The decision to suspend the publication of all information related to organized crime is based on our responsibility to ensure the integrity and security of our more than 1,000 workers, their families and ours."

"There are no security guarantees to fully carry out journalism," it added.

The decision follows a series of threats targeting the group's director, Francisco Juaristi, which appeared on "narcomanta" banners hung in several locations across the state.

Over the last month, Mexico has seen a wave of violence targeting the press. In February, five journalists from the newspaper El Siglo de Torreon, also based in Coahuila, were briefly kidnapped and threatened. The newspapers offices were shot up three times in three days later that month.

In early March, the director of news website Ojinaga Noticias, Jaime Guadalupe Gonzalez, was shot and killed in Chihuahua state. The same week, Ciudad Juarez newspaper Diario and TV station Canal 44 were both shot up on the same night -- although the authorities have stated that they do not believe the attacks were linked to organized crime.

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, Mexico has earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. According to the Inter-American Press Society, there have been 127 registered attacks against Mexican journalists in the last 12 years, and attacks have risen dramatically since then-President Felipe Calderon launched his assault on Mexico's drug cartels in 2006.

This is not the first time a Mexican publication has openly capitulated in the face of threats and violence. In 2010, one Ciudad Juarez newspaper published a front page editorial pleading with the cartels to "explain to us what you want, what you expect us to publish or stop publishing." The call followed the murder of two of its reporters in two years.

Following a grenade attack on its premises in 2012, Nuevo Laredo newspaper El Mañana announced that it would avoid "reproducing facts about violence that is a product of the war between criminal groups."

However, these cases are merely the most open expressions of the self-censorship that is rife in Mexico's conflict zones, which more commonly manifests itself as an individual survival tactic rather than an editorial policy. Journalists quickly learn what they can and cannot report, often leading to a stripped-down style, consisting of neutral facts shorn of information or context that could offer insight into the criminal underworld. This so-called "narco-censorship" is exacerbated by the fact that some newsrooms are infiltrated by criminal groups, who pay off members of the editorial staff.

The unrestricted and anonymous world of social media and blogging can provide an outlet for the type of crime reporting abandoned by the mainstream media. However, even this has not escaped the reach of the cartels and several people have apparently been murdered for their citizen journalism, emphasizing the extent of criminal groups' desire and ability to impose a media blackout about their activities.

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