Mexican lawmakers recently passed a bill that says it's a federal offense to threaten or murder a journalist. That says a lot about how dangerous it is for journalists to cover issues like corruption and drug-trafficking in Mexico. The World's Lorne Matalon reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World, Mexican lawmakers recently passed a bill that says it's a federal offense to threaten or murder a journalist. President Felipe Calderon is expected to sign the measure into law. The fact that such a law was needed says a lot about the level of drug-related violence in Mexico. And it says a lot about how dangerous it is for journalists to cover that violence. The World's Lorne Matalon has the story.
LORNE MATALON: A dramatic radio spot is airing in Mexico. It's sponsored by an NGO fighting for freedom of speech. â€œIf they're not there, who'll tell us what's going on? In Mexico, journalists disappear and the state does nothing.â€ Mexico's Congress wants to change that. It says local and state police are often intertwined with corrupt politicians and drug cartels and get bribed not to investigate. A new bill says federal investigators â€“ well paid with no ties to local politics â€“ will now do the work. Ezequiel Flores is a reporter from Guerrero State, on the Pacific Coast southwest of Mexico City. Guerrero is one of Mexico's most violent states. It's the base for two powerful, feuding drug cartels. A news photographer was shot to death here last week. It is stories such as that and Flores's stories in the weekly national magazine, Progresso, that prompted Congress to act. Flores is documenting the financing of local politicians by the cartels. â€œThere's plenty of evidence,â€ he says, â€œthat the government here is supporting narco-traffickers who are responsible for the violence in our country. And,â€ he says, â€œThe narcos are executing people and paying others in government to influence the selection of candidates.â€ The Committee to Protect Journalists says 25 reporters have been murdered in Mexico so far this decade. Last year, when narco-violence and crime spiked, 10 reporters were killed. Several more have been slain this year. 7 others have simply vanished.
GONZALEZ: You can see journalists finding ways to keep sending information out despite what is going on.
MATALON: Ricardo Gonzalez works with the NGO Article 19, named after the article on free speech in the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
GONZALEZ: You know, at some point, the society will realize the importance of having these journalists putting themselves out in great danger in order to make some sense of what is happening.
MATALON: Despite the bill's approval by Mexico's Congress, public policy analyst Lucrecia Santibaniez doubts it will be effective in bringing cases before the country's dysfunctional court system.
SANTIBANIEZ: We also don't have a great federal prosecution system, so is it really going to be that much better? I mean, beyond raising awareness and putting the spotlight where it is, I'm wondering if it might have just been easier to strengthen some of the states local capacities.
MATALON: Reporter Ezequiel Flores has no faith any level of government will suddenly start protecting those who expose connections between organized crime and some politicians. But he's willing to see whether the bill, still awaiting President Calderon's signature to become law, will have any effect. For The World, I'm Lorne Matalon in Guerrero, Mexico.