By Samantha Greyson (*)
“It's hard for news organizations to appear to be really, really interested in what's going on in Ukraine, even if it has all these geopolitical implications, that are important and that people do need to know — that's undeniable,” Javier Garza, former editorial director of El Siglo de Torreón, podcaster and freelance journalist told the LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). “But at the same time, there is a lot of violence in Mexico, and so you have to prioritize that.”
On Feb. 24, Russian troops invaded Ukraine in an escalation of the conflict between the two countries. In the past month, the invasion forced over four million Ukrainians to flee the country, with many still internally displaced. The conflict has received constant coverage from news outlets around the world and many Western journalists have traveled to Ukraine to do first-hand reporting.
However, as Garza said, it is largely Western countries who can send foreign correspondents to Ukraine, while journalists in Mexico have largely relied on wire services like AP News to cover the conflict.
“In general, Mexican legacy media are covering the Ukraine/Russia conflict through Western agencies,” Dr. Manuel Alejandro Guerrero, department of communications director for Universidad Iberoamericana told LJR. “In this way, the general approach of most mainstream media is that of condemnation against Russia’s invasion. A good example is the site of El Universal … where they have a special site to cover the conflict.”
Guerrero said Mexican citizens have mixed views regarding the invasion. He said some citizens support Ukraine, while others agree with Putin’s decision to invade. Despite public opinion of the invasion itself, Garza said Mexican news outlets’ coverage of Ukraine has received some backlash.
“There's a little bit of cynicism from the Mexican public in saying to the Mexican media ‘why are you giving so much coverage to 20 dead people in a bombing in Kyiv, when there's been just 20 people that were killed in a shootout yesterday in Michoacán,’” Garza told LJR.
Garza said when he was the editor of a local Mexican newspaper, he experienced negative audience reactions when he decided to cover conflicts abroad. He said because of the violence in Mexico, citizens felt the news outlets should focus more on the tragedies at home.
Garza hosts Expansión Daily, a daily podcast on national news in Mexico. He said his team talked about Ukraine every day on his podcast since the war started in late Feb., but last week was the first time they didn’t carry Ukraine as a topic.
“Ukraine is really far away,” Garza said. “So, you recognize the importance that the story has, a European country being invaded for the first time since World War II, that's a big deal. So, it got a good amount of coverage in the first couple of weeks, and then it waned a little bit.”
Garza said one of the stories from the Russian-Ukraine conflict that received more coverage in Mexico was the evacuation of Mexicans living in Ukraine.
“That was the way to bring the story home, was to talk about the Mexicans that were stranded in Ukraine,” Garza said. “Once they were out … Now it's lacking that emotional component because most of the Mexicans living in Ukraine left the country.”
Garza said Mexican journalists have covered the war in Ukraine from two angles. The first is the economic consequences of the war for Mexican people, including raised gas and food prices.
“In the editorials, most analyses focus on the consequences that such conflict is having on Mexico and on Latin America, mostly in terms of the economy, trade and specifically the prices regarding oil and energy,” Guerrero told LJR.
The other angle journalists are taking, Garza said, is that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has yet to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine
“There is this flirting with Putin and the Russian government,” Garza said. “A lot of people are actually baffled by this, with our President coming from a center-left party.”
In addition to his failure to condemn Putin, members of the President’s party invited the Russian ambassador to establish a “Mexican-Russian friendship group.” Garza said stories on this topic gain more attention in Mexico because it drives the Russia, Ukraine conflict home.
“In covering international affairs, you always have to sort of find the hook that gets the story closer to your audience,” Garza said.
While Mexican news outlets aren’t sending many reporters to Ukraine to cover the conflict, Garza said that in general, the practice of foreign reporting has decreased over time, not just in Mexico, but across the world.
“Throughout the last, probably 20 years, there has been a decline in the figure of the foreign correspondent, which used to be so important for a news organization because it was what gave them a lot of prestige,” Garza told LJR. “But the economic realities have really precluded news organizations from launching full scale reporting initiatives.”
For some international situations, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Garza said Western news outlets from the United States and Europe will deploy their resources abroad. Garza said Mexican media doesn’t have the ability to deploy as many journalistic resources abroad, especially when the conflict isn’t close to home, because the financial repercussions of foreign coverage in a war-torn area are hefty.
Instead, Garza said outlets like Televisa and Excelsior sent foreign correspondents to Western Ukraine to work on stories about refugees. These reporters didn’t have the adequate security to go into Kyiv, Garza said.
“If you want to get into Kyiv, or if you want to get into Mariupol, you're gonna need a lot of equipment,” Garza said. “You're going to need a fixer, you're going to need a car, probably an armored car… That costs a lot of money and Mexican news organizations don't have the resources.”
For Mexican citizens, an abundance of coverage from local news outlets on tragedies abroad can cause frustrations, Garza said.
“News organizations have to be very careful to strike a balance,” Garza said. “If you see the report of 10 people dying in Ukraine, as bad as that sounds, there is a legitimate grievance from the Mexican public in saying, ‘we're much worse here.’”
Guerrero said Mexican citizens are taking to Twitter to voice their opinions on the invasion, with some Mexican citizens supporting Ukraine, while others “consider the Russian invasion as an understandable answer before NATO’s policy following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.”
Guerrero said the Mexican people in support of Russia typically belong to one of three mindsets — they believe in a strong governmental power to counter unchecked capitalism, they view progressive movements as unfavorable and “imported from the West,” or they subscribe to a type of populism.
“The preference for “popular wisdom” over expertise and technical knowledge … is common in the populist mind: not to trust the experts because they are unconnected to what “the people” really want and from their true interests,” Guerrero said.
When Alfonso Durazo, the Governor of Sonora, tweeted about a citizen of Sonora who was in Ukraine at the time of the invasion, he received unfavorable comments online.
On Mar. 5, Durazo tweeted “I share with you that we are in permanent contact with the Sonoran, Luis Hull Hernández, and his relatives. Luis was in the Ukraine and this morning he managed to get to Romania. The Mexican embassy in that country is following up and supporting this young man from Navojoa [state of Sonora].”
In response to Durazo’s post, a Twitter user replied “Leave him there, he’s safer in Ukraine than in Sonora.”
“There is a lot of cynicism about ‘why are you covering violence that's 5000 miles away when there is a lot of violence in Mexico,’” Garza said. “So, news organizations also have to be very careful to strike a balance.”
This story was produced as an assignment for the class “Journalism and Press Freedom in Latin America,” at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism and Media.
Samantha Greyson is a junior at The University of Texas at Austin studying English and Journalism. She works as an associate news editor at The Daily Texan and has reported on various topics for the campus community.