Mexico: narcos wage terror campaign against media

During a live broadcast the night of Jan. 6, at least five masked gunmen riding in two pickup trucks fired high-caliber weapons and tossed a grenade outside the studios of the Televisa network in Monterrey, in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León. The two news anchors asked the police for help on the air during the attack. Televisa’s news director in Monterrey, Francisco Cobos, told local reporters that the gunmen left a message on the windshield of one of the cars parked in the station’s lot saying in Spanish: “Stop reporting on us. Also report on narco officials.”

“Drug traffickers are clearly using the media to spread a message of fear and terror and make clear to everyone that there will be consequences to reporting on their activities,” said Carlos Lauría of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The government cannot allow criminals to intimidate the media into silence.”

No one was injured but at least six cars and the station’s front door were damaged, Cobos said. Federal and local police and the Mexican army immediately surrounded the building after the bombing, and the army was deployed to two other Monterrey TV stations, Azteca 7 and Canal 12 Multimedios. Federal authorities are investigating the attack. A bill that would amend the penal code to make it a federal crime to curtail an individual’s right to freedom of expression is set to be debated by Mexico’s Congress in the next month.

Until recently, Monterrey was considered one of Mexico’s safest cities. But since early 2007, violence has spread as drug gangs, including the Gulf Cartel’s enforcement arm, Los Zetas, have battled for control of Monterrey and its nearby drug route into Texas. In May 2007, a two-man crew for the national broadcaster TV Azteca disappeared in the city, CPJ wrote in a 2008 special report, “The Disappeared.” The reporter, Gamaliel López Candanosa,, is believed to have refused bribes, or “chayote,” to skew their reporting or spread drug traffickers’ messages to the press.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America, CPJ research shows. Since 2000, 24 journalists have been killed, at least eight in direct reprisal for their work. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. (CPJ, Jan. 7)

On Nov. 16, a grenade attack was launched on El Debate, a newspaper in the violence-ravaged city of Culiacan, Sinaloa. No one was injured in the midnight attack. El Debate’s publisher, José Isabel Ramos, told La Reforma newspaper, “We feel this action is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the free exercise of journalism in Sinaloa.” State police officers now patrol the newspaper’s front gates.

There have been several other high-profile attacks this past year. In September, radio host Alejandro Fonseca was killed in the southern state of Tabasco as he hung political banners denouncing a rash of kidnappings in his state. Two radio reporters were also killed in Oaxaca in April. (Austin American-Statesman, Nov. 18)

A newspaper in Yucatán was also attacked with grenades in 2006. But the northern border cities are among the most dangerous in Mexico. Armando Rodríguez Carreon, a newspaper reporter in Ciudad Juárez, was killed last November. In Nuevo Laredo, the press was largely intimidated into not reporting on the narco wars after journalists were shot, stabbed and kidnapped.

See our last posts on Mexico’s drug war and attacks on the press.