By Ana Arana and Daniela Guazo, Fundación MEPI
The following text is a fragment of the authors' original story. To read the complete article, visit the website of the Mexico City-based investigative journalism organization, Fundación MEPI.
MEXICO CITY - It was 38 minutes into the professional soccer match at the Santos Modelo Stadium about 275 miles from the U.S. border when players started running from the ball to their locker rooms. Popping sounds interrupted the announcers. More than one million Mexican television viewers watched as a firefight between the country´s most ruthless drug cartel and local police unfolded in the industrial town of Torreon, Coahuila.
The images broadcast showed terrified men, women and children crouching under the stadium seats and others scrambling for cover. Television Azteca, the second largest Mexican network, stopped transmission of the game. But ESPN continued, breaking its audience records worldwide for a domestic soccer match.
It was the first time drug-related violence played out on live television alongside the country's beloved sport. But another battle raged inside the local Mexican media where criminal groups have continued to muzzle regional reporting on drug violence that has left more than 60,000 dead since outgoing President Felipe Calderon took office. A lack of official government information including credible crime reports has further complicated the media´s job, an investigation by Mexico City-based Fundacion MEPI found.
In the newsroom of the local daily El Siglo de Torreon, editors and reporters pondered whether to publish news of the shootout in a prominent place the next day despite its obvious news value. The gun battle pitted the Zetas organized crime group against a municipal police contingent parked near the stadium.
"The pictures were provocative," said the paper´s top editor Javier Garza. But, he and his journalists worried they might become a target if they featured the images prominently. Assailants have bombed and sprayed the daily´s offices with bullets twice since 2009. Journalists there have received death threats and warnings from criminal groups that don't like El Siglo´s coverage.
Mexico was the most dangerous country in 2011 to be a reporter, the International Press Institute reported. Ten journalists were killed here last year and the trend continues into 2012. Continued fear of retaliation from organized crime has deepened an atmosphere of self-censorship among Mexico´s regional news outlets, the investigative journalism project MEPI found.
The six-month investigation, a follow-up to a study in 2010, examined publishing trends in 14 of 31 Mexican states to better understand how drug violence affects news content in regional media. The states, concentrated in northern and central Mexico, are among the country's most violent. The study found provincial newspapers increased their coverage of organized crime in 2011 by more than a 100 percent over last year, publishing reports on 7 out of 10 organized-crime incidents in their coverage area. But only two newspapers—El Norte in Monterrey and El Informador in Guadalajara—provided context to the violence, identified the victims and did follow-ups.
The day after the shootout story was on El Siglo´s front page. But, the paper did not try to explain why the attack took place, in line with editorial policies. Editors know that criminals read their pages to see how their organizations are portrayed and are careful not to provoke them.
Click here to read the complete version of this story and consult Fundación MEPI's interactive graphics on violence and organized crime coverage.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.