In Mexico, Alternative Media Steps In

by Ben Bodnar on February 23, 2011

Journalism in Mexico

“True journalism in Mexico is truly the enemy of organized crime.” Michael O’Connor, Mexico Representative for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Is true journalism found in the traditional media in Mexico today? It is certainly stifled, because traditional media outlets are facing constant threats to either keep quiet or face attack. Approximately 30 journalists have been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.  In September 2010 one paper wrote a response to an attack on two photographers in a front-page editorial. The Ciudad Juarez’s El Diario on 19 September 2010 beseeched the drug cartels to let the paper know what they wanted in order to let up on the violence. On 8 November 2010, Dallas Morning News correspondent Alfredo Corchado said covering the violence in northern Ciudad Juarez is worse than in Iraq and Afghanistan because “at least there you had a sense of who’s who.”

Some measures are being taken to protect traditional media outlets and journalists. Last September, the Calderon administration said it would follow the advice of the CPJ to make crimes against journalists a federal offense, though the Mexican Congress has yet to take action.

If traditional media in Mexico is forced into censorship, then how do people become informed? Alternative media forms like blogs are beginning to answer that question, though in controversial ways.

One example is Blog del Narco, an anonymously written blog and the most well-known outlet covering Mexico’s criminal violence. The controversial blog has been loosely dubbed Mexico’s Al Jazeera; it has approximately 3 million viewers per month and now has over 40,000 followers on Twitter, according to an interview with the author in August last year. The site is used both by transnational criminal organizations to project their influence and by law enforcement authorities in their investigations – bringing information to Mexicans that is rarely available through traditional media.

Traditional outlets, like Milenio Television Network, also cite the blog. Milenio’s ratings improved when it began using and crediting Blog del Narco material.

Critics argue that Blog del Narco provides a forum for cartels to upload content that will be released to large audiences. Carlos Lauria of the CPJ thinks “media outlets have social responsibilities and have to serve the public.” By giving cartels an unfiltered influence platform, he believes the author of the blog is acting unethically and not adhering to journalistic standards.

At the same time, Blog de Narco is one of the few venues Mexican law enforcement has to get out unfiltered information to the public about criminal activities.  The FBI and the Mexican Defense Department are among Blog del Narco’s more than 7,300 Twitter followers. Rusty Payne, spokesman for the DEA has said, “We’re very aware of these kinds of things” though he wouldn’t say whether the DEA uses the information from the blog in its investigations.

There are other examples of Mexican citizens using alternative means to stand up to criminal organizations. A popular YouTube user in Mexico has used his gravitas to come out against the violence in northern Mexico. On Twitter, users create hash tags of major cities and post information if they see or hear danger.

Alternative media generated by citizens is filling the information gap created by the assault on traditional media outlets in Mexico. But whether it is “true journalism” and whether the majority of that content supports or hurts cartel agendas – or just provides increased awareness to the population – has yet to be determined.

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