Mexico: New (Dis)Agreement on Reporting Violence

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico's Drug War.

On March 24, most of the biggest Mexican media outlets signed the “Agreement to Cover Violence in Mexico,” an agreement that unifies the editorial criteria to cover and report news related to violence generated by the war waged against drugs cartels in Mexico since 2006.

More than 700 organizations signed and backed the accord [es], but important media outlets like Reforma, La Jornada, Proceso and MVS Noticias did not.

The document [es] outlines 10 points –as translated by Bloggings by boz– for editorial criteria:

1) Take a stance against violence: […] the media should never, under any circumstance, justify actions and arguments of organized crime and terrorism […].
2) Do not become an involuntary spokesman for organized crime: […] the media should avoid using the language used by delinquents […]. Prevent that delinquents or presumed ones turn into victims or public heroes […].
3) Provide context for information: Present information in its correct context and in perspective […]
4) Specifically attribute responsibility for crimes: […] In the event that any State action to combat organized crime falls into excesses, is outside the law or violates human rights, it should always be recorded […] when the State action is performed within the law, it should be clear that violence is the product of criminal groups.

The list goes on:

5) Do not prejudge the accused
6) Protect the rights of victims and minors
7) Promote crime prevention and encourage citizens to denounce crime
8) Protect journalists
9) Solidarity with threats or attacks against journalists
10) Do not put operations against criminals at risk

This is the promotional video of the agreement [es] (Warning: the video contains explicit images) :

Organizations like Article 19 [es] and the Committee to Protect Journalist welcome the document since it is considered fundamental to protect the lives of journalists: Mexico is the most dangerous country for media in the western hemisphere and the number one country in the disappearance of journalist [es]. However, Darío Ramirez (@expresate33), the Director of Article 19 in Mexico, tweeted some considerations:

No menciona que las agresiones también vienen de la fuerza pública y esto alenta un contexto de falta de estado de derecho para la lib exp

It does not mention that the attacks also come from the police and this encourages a context where the rule of law is lacking for freedom of expression

No se reconoce que es un documento inicial y perfectible

It doesn't recognize that it is an initial document that could be improved

Supporters like Gabriela Warkentin — academic at Iberoamericana University and analyst at ForoTV — published an editorial in El Universal [es] (a newspaper that signed the pact and already published [es] their editorial criteria to report on violence):

Podemos gritar censura o aplaudir a rabiar. Pero, neta, no nos confundamos: cuando logremos que la población entienda la diferencia entre el Blog del Narco y el periodismo profesional, nadie necesitará de acuerdo alguno.

We can scream censorship, applaud or be enraged. But, really, make no mistake: when we can get people to understand the difference between the Blog del Narco [es] and professional journalism, nobody will need any agreements.

But the document sparked strong disagreement and criticism –coming from outside the powerful group that subscribed to the accord– since the pact is seen as a mechanism to manipulate and alienate information with the official discourse of the administration of President Felipe Calderón in order to justify the war and the loss of more than 30,000 lives.

For many, the fact that the project is related to Televisa and Iniciativa México delegitimizes the initiative. Iniciativa Mexico [es] is a group made up of media outlets, intellectuals and businessmen that joined forces during the celebration of the Bicentennial to highlight the virtues of Mexico through calls for action, voluntary work and entrepreneurial initiatives to support civil society interested in the “transformation” of the country. Researcher John M. Ackerman wrote about the project Iniciativa México in 2010 in an editorial at La Jornada [es]:

El lanzamiento de la Iniciativa México (IM) demuestra que el país se acerca de forma franca hacia el totalitarismo. Bajo este sistema político, la clase dominante no se conforma con el ejercicio de la autoridad desde las instituciones gubernamentales, sino que despliega agresivas campañas propagandísticas con el fin de controlar la totalidad de la vida pública y privada de los ciudadanos. Tales intentos de “reducación” cívica típicamente prometen “liberar” al pueblo de una historia de “atraso”. Aspiran a crear un país ficticio a partir de una “revolución cultural” que instale nuevos valores y prácticas.

The launching of Iniciativa Mexico shows that the country is moving towards totalitarianism. Under this political system, the ruling class does not have enough with the exercise of authority from government institutions, but rather it launches aggressive propaganda campaigns to control the public and private life of citizens. Such attempts of civic “re-education” typically promise to “liberate” the people of a history of “backwardness”. They aim to create a fictional country from a “cultural revolution” that installs new values and practices.

I asked John M. Ackerman a few questions about the agreement on reporting violence and its relation to Iniciativa México:

¿What is the biggest problem with the accord?

The central problem from my point of view is the requirement to “contextualize” and “explicitly attribute responsibilities” in all reports on organized crime.  Specifically, “when the action of the State takes place legally, it should be made clear that the violence is a product of the criminal groups”.  This is clearly code for putting an end to perspectives (such as the “no more blood movement”) which principally blames the failed government strategy, and not the criminals, for the sharp uptick in violence over the past four years.  The central idea behind the “acuerdo” is that the media should support instead of criticize the government, since criticism supposedly plays into the hands of the narcos.

In relation to your article in La Jornada about Inciativa Mexico, is this agreement part of a project of a “totalitarian state”?

Yes, as a part of the “Iniciativa Mexico” and an initiative run by the TV media oligopoly (Televisa and TV Azteca), along with other allied media outlets, this agreement clearly fits into a broader project of the government, along with powerful corporate interests, trying to control and “direct” public opinion. This is particularly important for these actors today since the 2012 presidential elections are literally right around the corner and they want to make sure that there is absolutely no opportunity for the political left to take.

Is it necessary to have a special and homogeneous code of conduct to report violence in México?

No, this is not necessary. The really important thing would be to assure more ideological plurality and economic competition in the media, particularly in television.  This is what would help raise the standards of reporting.

Conrado Romo, blogger at the citizen blog Crítica Pura writes with a similar tone in his post titled “Iniciativa México: the Dictatorship of Spectacle” [es]:

¿No tenemos medios maduros que puedan asumir responsabilidad sobre los cómo y los por qué de sus actos? ¿Estamos condenados en México a la sobre regulación del todo?

Don’t we have mature media outlets able to assume their responsibility over the why and how of their actions? Is Mexico condemned to the over-regulation of everything?

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico's Drug War.

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