Video shows Mexican drug lord paying journalists for media advice

By Carola Guerrero De León

A video released by an anonymous source shows two Mexican journalists in the state of Michoacán taking money from members of one of the country’s most wanted cartel leaders, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez, in exchange for media advice.

The clip shows Televisa on-air correspondent Eliseo Caballero and José Luis Díaz, the owner of Esquema news agency, discussing communication strategies with the leader of the Michoacán’s Knights Templar cartel.

The journalists offer several suggestions about how to take advantage of social media, hanging banners, photos, and email correspondence. In the video, Caballero can be heard asking Martínez for new cameras while Díaz requests a new vehicle.

Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was the first to air the video on her morning show, later interviewed both journalists. Caballero and Díaz stated that they have been taken to Martínez by force, but their stories diverged when they discussed the amount of money they had received.

In statements given to La Jornada, both journalists denied taking money from Martínez, despite the evidence presented on the video.

The video footage of the two prominent Mexican journalists openly conversing with a well-known cartel member has reopened the debate about the relationship between organized crime and the country’s media outlets.

According to Caballero, he had only met with Martínez on two occasions in 2013, when the Knights Templar cartel has territorial control in Michoacán. He insisted that resisting or denying their invitations could have been fatal.

Quoting the call he received from cartel members during an interview with Narco Noticias, he said:

“Are you Eliseo Caballero? We call you on behalf of the professor [La Tuta]. We know where you live, your office location, who you are close to… you know that you go, no matter what, to these meetings. If you don’t, we go for you.”

The now former Televisa correspondent added that the video that was originally shown by Aristegui had been edited and that it did not include the threatening comments that Martínez has made during the meeting.

“With all of the calmness in the world, he talked to us about how he had problems with a journalist from Lázaro Cárdenas, and how he had to kill him because he did not do what he wanted him to do, even though he was his pal [Miguel Ángel Villagómez Valle, owner of La Noticia],” Caballero said in an interview.

Díaz also said that fear had driven the actions seen on the video, citing a 2010 incident in which he was kidnapped and tortured for reporting on the drug trade.

Televisa, which has captured nearly 70 percent of Mexico’s broadcast television audience, has denied any complicity in the interaction caught on tape and promptly ended Caballero’s contract with the company when it was revealed.

According to Insight Crime analysis, the video demonstrates the difficult reality in which journalists have been corrupted and convinced to work with criminal groups. Aside from giving media tips, they cite the fact that journalists have also been compelled to give groups “favorable coverage, ignoring certain events or writing about rival groups.”

Various news publications in Mexico, which is ranked as one of most dangerous countries to be a journalist, have stopped reporting on organized crime altogether because they can no longer guarantee the safety of their reporters. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 reporters have been killed since 1992, 80 percent of which were reporting on crime.

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.