Oaxaca Reporters Tell of Life in the Trenches
‘Alternative media’ in Oaxaca, Mexico, means graffiti, not the internet. Nancy Davies comments on the latest meeting of Oaxacan journalists this weekend on NarcoNews.com.
Many issues were discussed, including the lack of unity amongst
journalists and the increasing violence against the profession.
Oaxaca Reporters Tell of Life in the Trenches
“Alone, Facing Power”: The Association of Journalists of Oaxaca Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
December 4, 2007
When is the reporter the story? When he or she is assassinated. The Association of Journalists of Oaxaca (APO in its Spanish initials), celebrating its 30th anniversary, held a forum in the Hemeroteca Publica Néstor Sanchez, in the capital city of Oaxaca. The discussion, held on consecutive days of Saturday and Sunday December 1 and 2, explored themes as different as security and salary, government and police malfeasance, the Oaxaca popular movement and computers for blind journalists.
Ironically, while the reporters from press, radio and internet decried the lack of social security or health care for free-lancers, and minimum wage salaried positions along with frequent physical danger, the famous Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden outside the hemeroteca (public reading room) hosted a very upper crust wedding, at a cost to the marriage hosts of 100,000 pesos ($10,000). The policy of renting public spaces was initiated two years ago by the governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Hence, those attending the Congress of Journalists were told to use bathrooms on the third floor, because the wedding party, with ladies in exquisite formal gowns and men in dress suits, monopolized the building’s reserved first floor bathrooms. With a bathroom matron, no less.
Salaried journalists are often paid about 1,700 pesos (US$155) every two weeks, less than the outfits passing by. The lovely ladies and well-shod gentlemen passing along the walkway ignored the display of historic photographs and award-winning cartoons lampooning the political leaders of Oaxaca and Mexico, by such well-known Mexicans as Dario Castellejos, Mario Robles and Ithiel Ramirez.
To get back to the story, here’s a partial list of reporters murdered in Mexico during the past decade, whose deaths have not led to convictions:
Raúl Marcial Pérez
Alfredo García Marquez
Pablo Pineda Gaucín
William Uicab Salas
Héctor Félix Miranda
Víctor Manuel Oropeza
Alfredo Jiménez Mota
Rafael Ortiz Martíne Z.
One of the best known cases of violations of constitutional rights is Lydia Cacho, a writer who exposed a pedophile ring. Many believe she has been persecuted and threatened by orders of the governor of the neighboring state of Puebla, Mario Marín, commonly referred to as the “gober precioso” because of a tape recording on which he is addressed as “my precious governor.” Following a decision on November 28 by the Mexican Supreme Court, a great and furious lament went up in most news sources because the Court – by a margin of six to four – voted that there is no reason to investigate Marin, although as the APO noted there is “clear evidence of violations of constitutional guarantees of the reporter.” Threats and bribes of witnesses have been alleged.
Marín is one of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governors. Widespread recognition exists that the three branches of government remain closely linked under the Executive, and that President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN) protects the PRI in return for votes.
Additionally, the police have made attempts on the lives of six other journalists, according to the APO. Three reporters were murdered in October of 2007 on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Flor Vasquez Lopez, Agustin Lopez and Mate Cortes Martinez.
According to a reporter from Juchitán, the profession in Mexico carries a danger second only to reporting in Iraq. “Animals can be killed only in certain seasons,” he said, “reporters can be killed any time…with the complicity of the government.”
References were made to being “alone, facing power” when a reporter finds himself in trouble. Miguel Angel Vasquez of Tuxtepec remarked on the “institutional disorder,” living with constant repression. He also referred to the fact that competition among reporters leads to lack of unity when someone falls into danger. Reporters’ rights are not well known; many remain silent when threatened or when they know about criminal activities, for fear of losing their jobs. Reporter training is rare. Despite the thirty-year history of the association, it has not yet managed to achieve unified actions as a union.
Unity among journalists in difficult times, to confront adversities (a word used by forum chairperson Cuauhtémoc Blas), define channels of communication among journalists, achieve levels of professional training and consolidate the Association as a pioneer organization for reporters in Oaxaca, were named by the chairperson as specific goals.
“[Governor Ruiz] has managed to divide not only the APPO and the teachers, but also the news reporters… the APO should be the place where we share alliances… the majority of news sources in Oaxaca reflect the position of the government,” claimed the El Financiero presenter who himself was a victim of Federal Preventive Police brutality of November 25. Abundio Núñez Sánchez suffered a twenty-centimeter wound on his head by a blow from a police club.
Unity has been hard to come by during the thirty years of effort; union organizing is all but unknown among journalists. Oaxaca has suffered from a monopoly of government control of the media, even to the point of attacking one newspaper, Noticias de Oaxaca, which held off a purchase bid by then-governor Jose Murat, and has been subsequently harassed by Ulises Ruiz, including shooting up the Noticias offices.
At one of the round tables, Cuauhtémoc Blas discussed the use of the internet and other alternative media – in Oaxaca, the best known and most widely used “alternative media” is spray paint on the walls. Internet use is limited due to costs; private computers are still fairly rare. However, the chairwoman of the discussion remarked on the necessity of maintaining the web without corporate ownership and censorship for future independence. Oaxaca Internet offers several on-going blogs (for example, Oaxaca En Pie de Lucha, Olor a mi tierra, and two APPO sites, all of these in Spanish), and for non-Spanish speakers a few blogs appear in English.
The other and better known “alternative” media is radio, which has been growing rapidly since its importance was obvious for the social movement in 2006. Radio reaches the largest audience share of Oaxaca media.
As recognition grows for community radio, which is largely unauthorized, Benjamín Alonso Rascón, collaborator of RadioBemba 95.5 FM, last month received the 2007 National Journalism Prize under the category of radio reporting for his coverage of the conflict in Oaxaca during the past year.
According to Amnesty International, the scale of attacks against journalists in the past two years has made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters. The majority of the attacks are attributed to organized crime and narco-trafficking investigations. In Oaxaca City, reporters faced the crime of being out in the action, covering the social movement during police repression.
Of the hundreds of attacks on journalists, not one has been processed or prosecuted successfully, said several forum participants.