By Alexander Backman | July 22, 2017
I was tasked in writing an essay for my journalism specialization course at Michigan University in the class that relates to issues that journalists face in their reporting activities. As you can imagine, in Mexico, sadly, it is not hard at all to talk about things that pose a threat to journalists in their line of work. But also, there are some issues that counter these bleak grievances and make the job of informing rewarding and fulfilling. I want to balance these two aspects in this essay. So, here it goes.
With respect on the future of journalism in my country, the future is bleak as it is becoming ever-so dangerous to reports the facts as events transpire. This is the first key issue that greatly concerns me.
As many abroad have learned, Mexico is currently living the worst security crisis in history with the full-scale criminal insurgency which has undermined the capability of its Government to deal with such a threat from the ever-growing transnational drug cartels and their well-established networks and bases of operations in different parts of the country. This exponential growth has provided them with an inordinate level of power. It is true, this problem is not new and has lurked as a demon in the shadows of the Mexican state since the 80s. But now, almost 40 years later, Mexico has not only become a second Colombia, it has transformed into a safe-haven for criminal empires to thrive and corrupt the entire government system, while at the same time operating under a veil of total impunity and secrecy. This now endemic problem has gotten to the point where journalists cannot report on these issues freely at a local and state level for fear of being killed. It is amazing still, that in the first six months of 2017 out of the 18 journalists that have been killed, nine are from Mexico, according to a report from PRESS EMBLEM CAMPAIGN. Journalism is being stifled due to this threat.
A second negative issue that needs attention in the media is poverty. Almost half of Mexicans live in extreme poverty. This situation has almost zero coverage by the mainstream Government-influenced media. And with it, a terrible lack of education of most of its inhabitants. This mix of lack of food, housing, jobs and education creates a great opportunity for the criminal organizations to prey on and hire peasants to do their bidding in the cartels. In a way, all these issues are noticeably intertwined, while ignorance and apathy are king and queen, the media rarely delves deeper into this social and dysfunctional abnormality.
But when it comes to the media, since half of Mexicans live in total and abject poverty, one has to ponder, do they read a newspaper? Do they have access to a tablet and the Internet? Do they read at all?
Yes, this affects journalism. How? Well, if we think about it, this means that 60 million potential viewers are not watching the news, they are not reading and following tweets, they are not being informed. Also, how can a journalist adapt to these deficiencies and at the same time inform the masses outside of the mainstream media or major communication outlets? One solution could be delivering the news visually instead of in writing and making the Internet available to all citizens on a zero budget so they can get in touch with reality and not be brainwashed by political action committees from the far left in the south of the Country where most of them live.
My third not-so positive issue which the media is not reporting on for fear of being threatened or have their ad revenue pulled altogether, and that is how Big Corporations have de facto taken control of what is being lightly reported on and spun and sugarcoated to the masses because it affects their sales and therefore their profit margins. Coca Cola is one of these unstoppable businesses that have total control of the media for one simple reason, they advertise everywhere! And if anything negative is reported about them, where they are mentioned or questioned directly, like, for example, why Mexico is the #1 country worldwide with child-diabetes, and also why Mexico is # 1 in child-obesity, again at a global scale, this is mentioned but no names are mentioned. When one questions who or what might be the source of this out-of-control problem. The logical answer would be the sugar intake that Mexican children are getting, and where this extreme consumption of sugar is coming from. Not only Coca Cola, there are many companies that have a lot invested in people consuming their products without any interest of even reading the labels to check what ingredients they are putting into their bodies, let alone their children’s bodies. So, here again we can see how ignorance, apathy and poverty makes this only worse. It is a vicious cycle, and reporters do not report on it because of pressure from their bosses or from the Government itself who in turn is getting its ears pulled by Big C.
Albeit, as dark and somber journalism in Mexico might seem, there are other areas where journalism is thriving. Despite the negative issues that seem to have overtaken Mexico and given it a terrible image worldwide affecting its tourist sector, Mexico is well-covered as well by the media with regard to its culture, its food and its historical heritage. After all, much of what Mexico has to offer to the world comes from archaeological landmarks from the Mesoamerican empires and how easy it is to still visit these places and have fun. A lot of reporting by journalists is being done about this on a constant basis. Whether it be a recent archaeological dig about the discovery that the Aztecs had human-sacrifice towers of women and children erected around their ‘juego de la pelota’ ball courts in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, or that an underground river was found gushing water under the ever famous pyramid of Pakaal in Palenque Chiapas, all these reports in the media not only shed light of Mexico´s history, they also attract a lot of people to visit these places as well. It promotes tourism and allows journalists to write about it and they get to travel. After all, who is not up to visiting the second biggest pyramid in the world at only 40 minutes away from Mexico City and seeing the ‘Tzompantli’ (skull rack towers) as they are being unearthed in the heart of the city? Graphic reporters are taking great images of these places as well and enriching the reports that we read.
A second positive aspect of journalism in Mexico is that to overcome the state-influenced media moguls in Mexico, the sector of independent citizen journalists sprang up along with the Internet revolution. In a country rife in corruption, citizens took to it and took advantage of the available social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and other blog sites to report what was not being said in the nightly news. In turn, this created a Government crackdown on dissidents who turned into journalists and who started to become a threat to the information control system. Journalists disappeared, were intimidated to not report on anything ever again. So, now, there is the average citizen journalist, but Mexicans who still report, know there are limits to what is being reported and how much of it should be known. So, freedom of speech is not absolutely 100% guaranteed in Mexico as one would expect, but at least self-censorship allows journalists to still report while, at the same time, be very careful not to step on the sharp-edged claws of the Mexican Media Masters and its members.
In conclusion, in troublesome countries where ‘La Libertad de Prensa’ does not exist, self-control and a decent dose of common sense of what to report and how might extend your livelihood in times of conflict and division as ‘periodista’.
P.S. I wrote this last paragraph as a series of bullets were fired in the distance close to where I am.