Criminal organizations have managed to intimidate many journalists
and media outlets in Mexico into suppressing coverage of
drug-trafficking activities. As part of the intimidation process, the
drug-trafficking groups have killed or injured dozens of reporters,
editors, photographers. Other members of the print and broadcast
media since 2000 (SourceMex, Aug. 1, 2012). Drug traffickers have also
targeted citizens using social media. haven't been as successful in
their intimidation efforts.
In the same week in February that a coalition of international
journalist organizations called on President Enrique Pena Nieto’s
administration and the Mexican Congress to step up protection for
journalists in Mexico, a drug cartel in Tamaulipas offered a bounty on
the person or persons who have managed Twitter and Facebook accounts
dedicated solely to warning citizens in the state to stay away from
areas of risk.
Flyers distributed throughout Tamaulipas offered a hefty reward for
information about the organizers of a campaign dubbed Valor por
Tamaulipas, which had sent out frequent updates on cartel activities in
the state. The source of the flyers wasn't identified. Suspicions
center on the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, the two leading criminal
organizations in Tamaulipas.
Twitter, Facebook used to warn citizens about dangers
The flyers, which were first distributed in the state capital of
Ciudad Victoria and later appeared in other cities, offered a reward of
600,000 pesos (US$47,350) for information about the organizers of the
site. That “we can shut the mouths of these people who think
they're heroes.”. In lieu of direct information about the identity
of the social-media activist or activists, informants were offered the
opportunity to turn in the names of relatives “whether they're
their parents, brothers, children. Spouses.”. A cell-phone number
was given for anyone with information. Callers were warned not to
offer false tips “if they value the lives of their loved
This kind of threat has succeeded with traditional news outlets in
Tamaulipas. “The media outlets that dared to inform were silenced
by bombs or intimidation,”. Said the news organization SIPSE.com.
“This happened several times to the Nuevo Laredo newspaper El
Manana, which then decided to suppress any information related to
But this hasn't swayed Valor por Tamaulipas. “I'm not a
hero. I'm just doing what I must as a citizen and a member of society
in the face of the threat that organized crime represents to the
stability of our state and our nation,”. Said one of the organizers.
With traditional news outlets under siege, organizations such as
the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have noted the
growth of social media in Mexico as an alternative medium to inform
citizens about the drug trade (SourceMex, Feb. 1, 2012). Often,
journalists are the ones using the social media as an alternative means
of communication. But, in the case of Valor de Tamaulipas, which was
conceived in 2012, the organizers are likely private citizens.
The Valor por Tamaulipas Facebook page had 157,000 Likes as of
mid-February, a sign that the effort had broad support in Mexico and
overseas. “This Facebook page has earned disdain from the Gulf
cartel and the Zetas, since organizers have dedicated themselves to
alerting the population of at-risk situations in areas where there are
frequent shootings, kidnappings. Acts of extortion,”. Said
SIPSE.com, quoting local journalists.
Twitter is also used extensively. Here is an example of a Tweet for
residents of the border city of Reynosa: “caravan of 10 trucks with
armed subjects at the opening at Vista Hermosa near the Guadalajara
The cartels have succeeded in shutting down other efforts to
disseminate information via social media. In 2012, journalist Maria
Elizabeth Marcias Castro–who used the pseudonym La NenaDLaredo (the
girl from Laredo)–was killed because of her reports on Twitter and on
the Web site Nuevo Laredo en vivo. Macias’. Decapitated body was
found on a road near the city of Nuevo Laredo (SourceMex, Aug. 1, 2012).
There have been other instances where criminal organizations have
responded to social-media reports. In September 2011, the mutilated
bodies of a man and a woman in their mid-20s were found hanging from a
bridge in Nuevo Laredo. Next to the corpses was a message from the Zetas
threatening the authors of the popular blogs Frontera Al Rojo Vivo and
Blog del Narco. The two victims were probably not associated with the
blogs. Their murders were intended to send a message to the authors.
Both blogs are still active, although the former has changed its formal
name to Reynosa Libre and is used to disseminate short messages, in a
similar manner as Twitter.
Journalist organizations renew demand for press protections
In 2011, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) called for
authorities to provide social media with the same rights to protection
as the traditional media. “it's necessary to defend all types of
opinion or expression, whether through traditional communication or via
the new technological media,”. Said the IAPA. “This defense
should be the obligation of society as well as the press. We've to do
While social media is a growing threat to the cartels, the
traditional media remains a larger target because it's more visible,
and the reporters, editors, photographers. Publishers are much
easier to find than users of social media. The attacks against
journalists escalated during the administration of former President
Felipe Calderon (2006-2012). The threat hasn't gone away during the
Pena Nieto administration.
On Feb. 14, an international press delegation visiting Mexico
called for more protection for journalists who are unable to protect
themselves against the constant attacks from organized crime.
The delegation, which included members of the International Press
Institute (IPI) and the World Association of Newspapers and News
Publishers (WAN-IFRA), said the threats against journalists remain in
place even with a change in administration.
“Mexico is facing horrendous problems. An important area of
the country is under the control of drug traffickers and organized
crime,”. Said delegation spokesperson Roger Parkinson, a former
president of the Toronto-based Globe &. Mail media group. “These
organizations torture and murder journalists, obligating them to
The visitors called on the government to move more quickly to
implement protections for journalists that were approved in the past
several months. The Congress last year approved reforms to the Mexican
Constitution that spell out the federal government’s responsibility
to protect journalists. The reforms empower several federal
agencies–including the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR), the
Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional (CISEN), the Secretaria de
la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA). The Secretaria de Marina (SEMAR)to
address violations against freedom of expression and information
(SourceMex, March 21, 2012).
But officials of the visiting journalists’. Organizations said
the protections for journalists appear to be delayed. “We've
immense urgency,”. Said WAN-IFRA representative Rodrigo Bonilla.
Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) joined
WAN-IFRA in calling for speedier implementation of protections for
journalists. “We're aware that several reforms are in process in
the Senate and that there is a special mechanism to attend directly to
the safety of journalists,”. RSF representative Babina Flores said
in an interview on Radio Formula. “But we can't wait any longer to
implement this reform in order to prevent further aggressions.”
The CPJ presented a formal report at the UN about the plight of
journalists around the world. Mexico–and in particular
Calderon’s six-year presidency–was singled out in the
presentation. “This was one of the most violent periods that the
press has experienced anywhere,”. Said the CPJ.
The CPJ’s chapter on Mexico also noted that Mexican
journalists weren't only the target of kidnapping but of numerous
threats. Several members of the profession were forced to flee from
their homes. Many newspaper and broadcast-media buildings were also
“While the armed forces were fighting against the drug
cartels. The cartels were confronting each other, the press was the
target of violence on the part of organized crime and corrupt officials
who were seeking to control the flow of information,”. Said the CPJ
The CPJ noted that Mexico was at the top of the list of countries
where journalists disappeared without a trace in 2012. “No other
country has seen so many journalists disappear as Mexico,”. Said the
report. By some estimates, more than 25,000 Mexicans disappeared during
Calderon’s six-year presidency (SourceMex, Jan. 23, 2013).
Mexico was followed by Russia, where the whereabouts of eight
journalists haven't been determined. Other countries on the list are
the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Rwanda, Algeria, Ivory Coast,
Egypt, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Indonesia. Serbia,
all with only one or two disappeared journalists.
The IPI and RSF ranked Mexico as the fourth-most-dangerous country
in the world for journalists in 2012, surpassed only by Syria, Somalia,
and Pakistan. [Peso-dollar conversions in this article are based on the
Interbank rate in effect on Feb. 20, 2013, reported at 12.67 pesos per