Catalina Lobo-Guerrero, J'09, Colombia
Covering drugs and corruption was the subject of the second panel of Scared Silent, the Knight Foundation Cabot Prizes conference, that took place on October 16 at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. The panelists were Dr. Denise Dresser, academic, columnist at Reforma newspaper and political analyst; Alberto Islas, a risk management expert in Mexico; and three experienced Latin America correspondents - David Adams, Latin American correspondent of the St. Petersburg Times, José de Córdoba, Mexico-based correspondent of The Wall Street Journal, and Alfredo Corchado, currently a Neiman Fellow at Harvard and Mexico bureau chief, Dallas Morning News.
"It's like being inside a wilderness of mirrors," said de Córdoba on covering drugs in Mexico today. He said no one could be trusted as a reliable source, not even other journalists - some who have become either victims for their outspokenness but others who have been bribed by the cartels to not publish what they discover or even to act as informants for drug gangs.
Islas said that cartels use the press to monitor their drug competitors, journalists in the middle of fights over drug turf.
The "Colombianization" of Mexico can be seen in the cartels replacing the local authorities in many areas or corrupting the police, and trying to silence journalists who cover the beat, said Corchado. "You even see it on the music or the 'narconovelas' (soap operas) that have a growing cultural impact," he said.
The biggest problem Mexico faces today is the corruption of the authorities that should be fighting the cartels, something Colombia has managed to control, said Adams. This could be an unintended consequence of Plan Merida, which provides U.S. training and equipment to Mexico's armed forces to fight drugs, Corchado sadi.
"The abuse of the power and the Mexican media structure can silence journalists as effectively as a bullet," said Dresser, decrying Mexico's duopolistic TV ownership as a source of misinformation. She said en Espanol political journalist Carmen Aristegui was ousted from her very popular show on W Radio for challenging the law favoring duopolistic ownership.
The concentration of power over Mexico's broadcasting has combined with the power of drug cartels to supplant Mexico's formal institutions and president, leading to impunity for those who break laws.
"Mexico is a country of crimes without punishment," said Dresser.