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Drug wars endanger Mexican press

Mexico is now considered the most dangerous country for journalists, after Iraq.

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When gunmen hurled a grenade into a tiny newspaper office in this town on the US-Mexican border – an attack that left one reporter paralyzed for life – the daily El Manana quickly put up a bulletproof wall outside the entrance. From then on they sent teams covering crime out in threes – a reporter, a photographer, and an extra pair of eyes.

But the most significant change at the paper in Nuevo Laredo, the traditional epicenter of Mexico's increasingly violent drug wars, was a decision about how to cover the news itself: all local, drug-related news came off the front page and names of suspects came out altogether.

Since the grenade attack last February, the drug wars have continued to spread across the country – and attacks and threats to the press have multiplied in their wake.

Last month a local councilman's head was left outside a newspaper office in Tabasco State, in what's become a common intimidation tactic. A prominent journalist in Acapulco was shot dead in April after leaving his radio show. Two television reporters in the northern city of Monterrey have been missing since May.

The situation is so grave here that the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders dubbed Mexico the most dangerous country in which to work as a journalism, after Iraq.

But, for many, the impact on freedom of speech is the greatest threat. Last month, after two grenade attacks, the Cambio Sonora became the first paper to preemptively shut down – and many fear more will follow.

"Over the last 20 years, the free press has been one of the most valuable tools to consolidate the democratic transition," says Gerardo Priego Tapia, president of the Special Commission to Address Aggression Against the Media in the Mexican legislature. "If we don't have information on what is happening in Mexico, we won't know how to pressure our local, state, and federal authorities," he says.


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