NYT bureau chief on press casualties of Mexico's drug war

How difficult is it to fully report on the drug wars?

‘It depends if you are speaking of local Mexican journalists vs national ones and then international correspondents like myself. Local Mexican journalists are much closer to the action and in many cases take great personal risk to report on how the drug war is affecting their communities. As you’re probably aware, some Mexican media outlets in the hot zones have chosen to censor themselves, after repeated death threats.

‘Some have carried on and occasionally pay the price with attacks on their buildings and reporters. Foreign journalists tend to do more ‘big picture’ stories that are not heavily seen in cities under duress, as opposed to the local paper.

‘While we certainly travel to dangerous areas, our stories and publications tend to lack the immediacy of the local press and therefore we tend not to be targets. We all have stories nonetheless of feeling and in some cases being threatened while asking a lot of questions on the street.”

Do you think there’s a solution to violence against journalists? Are the authorities helping?

‘I would say generally the bigger problem is impunity, the sense that people, not just journalists, can be killed or assaulted with little investigation of the crimes because of the poor state of Mexico’s police and judicial system.

‘Mexico is working on this but it will be some time before real change is evident. There are groups such as Article 19 in Mexico and the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international group based in New York, that work hard to keep the issue of journalists safety at the forefront.

‘They have pressed the authorities to investigate the crimes and to ensure journalists safety. But the government tends to be reactive, rather than proactive, in part because it is unclear how or whether journalists should be protected in a manner that would allow them to still do their jobs.

As an American journalist, do you feel safer than locals?

‘I tend to be very careful but you never know what you are walking into.

I was doing some reporting on a missing small-town police chief. One morning we arrived in the town after a night of violence, a deadly spray of assault weapon fire at a house and a few ablaze.

Nobody threatened us but the residents’ anxiety was palpable, and some suggested we leave or not stay after sundown, in true Old West fashion. We wrapped up our reporting and left.”

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