Mexican media set guidelines for covering drug war

Nearly 50 Mexican media organizations signed an agreement Thursday about coverage of drug trafficking. The pact seeks to prevent excessive publication of violent images and stories and to guarantee the safety of journalists who expose themselves daily to the growing violence of organized crime, which has left more than 34,000 deaths in four years. See stories in English by the Associated Press and Reuters.

The Agreement for News Coverage of Violence, led by the nation’s two most important TV networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, proposes unified editorial criteria for covering organized crime. It seeks to prevent the press from becoming an instrument of criminal organizations and to prevent the spread of “terror,” AP says.

The initiative was signed only days after it was revealed that the press and government of Honduras are working to limit publication of violent photos in an effort to help stop the violence unleashed after the coup of 2009.

Mexican media pledged to avoid using language and jargon of the drug trade, to emphasize drug trafficking's negative impact on the country, and to ignore and discard information from criminal groups with propagandistic purposes, the ANSA news agency adds. "One of the central challenges of the media in this type of coverage is how to record events to 'stop' alleged offenders from becoming 'victims or public heroes,'" says the document, as quoted by ANSA.

The media also agreed to establish protocols and security measures for their journalists, who so far had claimed to have received only body armor and wishes of good luck.

Among the measures recommended to journalists covering the drug trade are "not to use bylines on articles about these issues, to do stories and joint coverage with other media, and not do live reports from the most violent areas," Terra explains.

Drug violence in Mexico has soared in recent years, with more than 60 journalists killed since 2000, at least six of them in 2010. Another 139 journalists and 21 media organizations were attacked in the same period, while several reporters, including some who were abducted or threatened by drug gangs, chose exile.

Read the entire agreement here (PDF). For more details on violence against journalists in Mexico, see this Knight Center map.

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.