Don't snort: you're helping drug lords to kill your colleagues

BRITISH AND
OTHER western journalists who snort cocaine are helping to buy the
bullets and bombs that are killing brave colleagues on the other side
of the world.

That is what is so sad – and bad – about pop star
Robbie Williams’s recent statement that he indulged in the drug with
British reporters who, in past weeks, have condemned the behaviour of
the model Kate Moss.

“Some people in various media groups who I
have personally taken cocaine with are now talking about her, saying
she shouldn’t do it. I have done cocaine with these people,” he said.

If this is true, these reporters are not just guilty of simple hypocrisy.

They
– and other colleagues who use cocaine – are accomplices in murder.
Fratricide, if one believes in a global brother or sisterhood of
journalists.

We have to hope they are ignorant of their
complicity with the drug lords who are murdering journalists in Latin
America and other parts of the world to silence their reporting But
aren’t journalists, of all people, supposed to be well informed? Is
their behaviour just uncaring, heedless and careless of the lives they
help snuff out?

The International News Safety Institute (INSI)n
recently interviewed Latin American reporters and other news media
specialists as part of its global inquiry into the causes of journalist
deaths.

One after another, they talked of the devastation wreaked
on journalists and their families in Colombia and Mexico, in particular
by the narco-traffickers who ship the white powder to the pampered
newsies and their fashionable friends in London.

Colombia is the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A total of 40 have been killed there in the past five years, most of them for reporting on drug trafficking and corruption.

In
addition to this, eight journalists have been murdered in the past 18
months in Mexico and all of these killings are thought to be
drug-related.

Consequences Drug-related murders also helped boost
the Philippines to the world’s most dangerous place for journalists
last year, ahead of even Iraq.

But it’s the northern border
region of Mexico that is the bloodiest for investigative reporters who
attempt to expose the crime and corruption that are destroying their
societies.

“It’s the new trend of drug gangs: journalists are
warned, paid off or killed,” Daniel Rosas, managing editor of the daily
El Mañana, the oldest paper in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, told
Knight Ridder Newspapers.

“Drug battles have become bloodier and
gangs have no code of ethics. They don’t respect human life. Why should
they respect reporters?”

One of the media experts told the INSI
inquiry, held in New York, that he could speak freely there, but not in
Mexico, out for fear for the lives of himself and his family. The
journalists were promised confidentiality.

Border regions are
dominated by the drug lords, he said. Their thugs threaten reporters
with tablazos (thrashings with sticks), death or banishment.

Another
described the process: “At first the journalist receives intimidating
phone calls, emails etc., or a ‘kind’ invitation to take a free
vacation.

Then an acquaintance – a colleague, a civil servant, a
media executive – approaches the journalist. The person is most
probably in contact with the drug traffickers. He or she warns him or
her and states clearly what would be the consequences if names were
spelled out or investigations published.

“If the warning does not
work, the next step will be the tablazos. The journalist is abducted,
summoned and beaten with sticks. There are cases where this is the last
step. Then, of course, comes murder.”

Silenced In August last
year, columnist Francisco Arratia, 55, from Matamoros, was kidnapped
and his hands smashed with iron bars. He died of a heart attack.

“The
narcos decided to give us an example with Arratia,” Vicky Castillo, his
friend and president of a Matamoros journalists’ association, said at
the time. “All the journalists are upset and outraged by our impotence.”

Few
people have been brought to justice for the murders of journalists.
Authorities are often bought off or intimidated by the drug lords.

Colombian
journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima has been kidnapped twice, tortured and
raped in the course of her work. She was awarded a prize for bravery in
2001 by the International Women’s Media Foundation for her reporting on
drug wars.

Amazingly, she continues working, albeit with armed bodyguards and an armoured car.

But other journalists, probably the majority, have been corrupted or silenced through fear.

Many journalists in northern Mexico know the traffickers well, accept their bribes and party with them, the INSI inquiry heard.

There
are also hundreds of journalists in Mexico and Colombia who, paid
little and respected less by employers and government, have lapsed into
the safety of silence.

“We’re completely alone in this business,”
said a Mexican editor who dismantled his paper’s investigative team
after a reporter disappeared.

Journalists who spoke to INSI said
one thing that would help them would be more international journalistic
solidarity. The narco-criminals and their corrupt helpers fear
international publicity and pressure.

Robbie Williams’s
journalist chums would do well to remember that taking cocaine is not a
victimless crime. A sniff in Britain is the symptom of a fatal sickness
in less healthy parts of the world.

Rodney Pinder is director of the International News Safety Institute

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