Of the nearly 140 reporters killed in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Honduras during the past decade, about half covered organized crime.
Between 2011 and 2020, these four countries accounted for 80 percent of journalists killed in Latin America, making them the most dangerous in the region for media, according to a Reporters Without Borders (Reporteros Sin Fronteras – RSF) report published in May. Of the 139 journalists murdered, 46 percent covered organized crime in some capacity and 39 percent reported on politics, according to the journalism watchdog group, which examined information on the killings of journalists in the region.
Targets included "reporters in the area who denounce and criticize the misappropriation of funds among other illegal actions,” the authors of the report wrote.
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Many of the killings displayed hallmarks of murders orchestrated by crime groups. One in four of the journalists was kidnapped before being killed. Their bodies were later found, often with signs of torture.
Being a reporter proved particularly dangerous in small cities and towns. Of the journalists killed, 56 percent lived in places with less than 100,000 people.
Almost half of the reporters killed had spoken out about being threatened, whether through posts on social media, or by informing their bosses or authorities. Only ten received any type of government protection.
Though 93 percent of the murdered journalists were men, the report noted that women reporters are often silenced by campaigns of threats and abuse aimed at them and their families.
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While it’s not surprising that journalists investigating organized crime face a high risk of danger, the report underscores that the combination of entrenched criminal syndicates and political elites can be particularly deadly for reporters.
In 2020, Latin America was the most dangerous region to practice journalism, according to the report. During this period, Mexico was the most deadly country worldwide for reporters. At least eight reporters were killed for investigating links between organized crime and political figures.
According to press freedom organization Article 19, the Mexican states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chihuahua are dubbed “zones of silence” because targeted killings of journalists are increasingly fostering fear and leading to self-censorship.
In Colombia, journalists covering the country’s peace process have spoken out about an “ugly and dangerous new atmosphere” in the country, the Guardian reported. Journalists have received communiqués from the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), a defunct paramilitary group whose name is often invoked to make blind threats.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro “poses a serious threat” to journalists in the country, according to Reporters Without Borders. Throughout the 2018 election cycle, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo — Abraji) recorded more than 130 cases of violence against journalists. In particular, journalists from Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, were threatened for writing reports critical of the president and his campaign.
Journalists’ murders also often go unpunished. In 2018, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia all ranked as being among the world’s worst for leaving these crimes unsolved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Brazil and Mexico have maintained this distinction during the past two years, according to CPJ’s 2019 and 2020 reports.
In these countries, law enforcement agencies often lack the will and resources to investigate such cases.
And, according to CPJ, suspects in these crimes often “have the means and influence to circumvent justice through political influence, wealth or intimidation.”