On October 4th, a National Geographic journalist was shot in the leg while interviewing a drug dealer in Juarez, Mexico. The individual was caught in an ambush during an interview, wherein the journalist was injured, and several others were killed. The interview was conducted in a “safe house” known for storing drugs that had been previously inspected by police last year.
While the American journalist knew of the risks of interviewing members involved in organized crime, they persisted despite the risk. In terms of danger for journalists, Mexico is the deadliest and five other journalists have been killed within Mexico this year.
President Obrador has frequently questioned the role of media which some have considered to be ammunition for local authorities to seek out journalists to prosecute or harm.
This rhetoric seems to mirror the dialogue within the United States regarding fake news and the president’s opinion of the media in general. Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit that conducts political advocacy through freedom of information and press, recently expressed that journalists within the United States itself were also subject to levels of abuse and violence.
Through the undermining of journalists, the fate of democracy itself stands on unsteady ground. The country’s place on the World Freedom Index dropped three notches from its position last year, in part due to the problematic environment surrounding journalists.
Even before president Trump, the attitude towards journalism and free press advocates was on the decline. “… the Obama administration was aggressively using the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than any previous administration combined,” states RSF Interim Executive Director Sabine Dolan.
While the United States may not be under an authoritarian regime, the climate of fear had led to the treatment of journalists as scapegoats for other more pressing issues facing our democracy.
This issue matters for students attending Alma College because it reflects the dangers of modern America as well as the world in general. Facets such as freedom of speech, information and press are no longer a guarantee. Whether a person is publishing an article on drug dealers in Juarez or writing about local events, there is the risk of intense scrutiny and violence due to the overall negative connotation with journalism.
It is suspected that journalists are targeted in order to prevent writing that could show a certain cartel in a negative light. The overall Mexican crime wars have shown that the violence surrounding drugs within the country is significant and so far, unstoppable.
Regarding future interviews within Mexico, reports have expressed that police will do patrol ride-alongs with journalists in dangerous neighborhoods, however they will not be assisted if their intent is to document illegal activity.
The names of the National Geographic journalist and the deceased have not been released to the public as of the writing of this article.