Self-Censorship High In Mexican Media Along Border
November 21, 2012

Mexico’s provincial newspapers boosted their coverage of organized crime events last year, but rarely went in depth, according to a new study.

Researchers from Fundación MEPI, an investigative journalism center based in Mexico City, analyzed crime stories published in 14 dailies located in some the country’s most violent states. All of the states bordering the United States were included except Baja California.

The newspapers increased their coverage of organized crime by more than 100 percent in 2011 over the previous year. However, coverage was superficial; only two newspapers studied — Monterrey’s El Norte and Guadalajara’s El Informador — put the crimes into context, identified victims and followed up on the initial story, according to MEPI.

The authors concluded that the increased reporting wasn’t “directly connected to more forceful reporting or new editorial policies,” but rather “reflected the news media's response to a spike in more gruesome violence including gangland-style executions.”

MEPI also found that newspapers in areas dominated by one drug cartel published fewer stories about drug violence than those in areas with warring cartels.

Fear drives the lack of in-depth coverage of organized crime in Mexico — on Nov. 16, Adrián Silva Moreno became the country’s 55th journalist killed as a consequence of reporting work since 2006, according to the International Press Institute.

But authorities also fail to provide reliable information about criminal events, according to MEPI.

Of the newspapers analyzed, El Mañana of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, had the highest level of censorship, according to MEPI’s analysis. Out of 8,405 police stories published, only 4 percent mentioned organized crime.

The paper officially announced it would no longer cover the drug war following the latest attack on its offices in May. It had been targeted before, and the paper’s editorial director was killed in 2004.

Many Mexican newspapers have policies against in-depth coverage of organized crime in order to protect their reporters. But one editor interviewed by MEPI said he was pushing his newsroom to build databases of crime statistics, and to use them to give readers a big-picture understanding of the organized crime problem in the state, rather than focusing on individual incidents, which can be deadly for those covering the story.

The report includes interactive maps and graphs that break down MEPI’s findings.