LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
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The leading newspaper in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez published an extraordinary editorial. The paper's been covering an epidemic of drug related violence. Two drug cartels are battling for control and the city sees about 10 murders per day. The newspaper seemed to reach the breaking point after the unexplained murder of a 21-year-old photographer. NPR's John Burnett reports.
Unidentified Man: (Spanish language spoken)
JOHN BURNETT: A newspaper vendor in the streets of Juarez hawks copies of Diario, but the normal image of the Mexican flag on the masthead has been altered. It's dripping with blood. Across the front of Sunday's edition, a headline screams: What do you want from us? The editorial implores: Even in war there are rules. What do you want from us, so that we don't have to pay tribute with the lives of our coworkers? This is the second journalist at El Diario de Juarez murdered in less than two years.
The Committee to Protect Journalists calls Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters. By the organization's count, more than 30 journalists and media workers have been murdered or have vanished since December 2006.
The committee's executive director, Joel Simon, laments that El Diario seems to be surrendering, saying to the cartels, tell us what to print, so our reporters will be safe.
JOEL SIMON: I think their actions are understandable. I think the big losers are, obviously, the public.
BURNETT: Yet Diario's editor, Pedro Torres, sitting in his office in the hushed newsroom, disputes that interpretation of his editorial.
PEDRO TORRES: (Through translator) We're not surrendering to the people who belong to these groups. We're asking for a truce because we don't want them to kill any more of our companeros. We said this clearly. There is no authority anymore, except for the de facto authority of the criminals. We live under their law.
BURNETT: The impassioned 1,600-word op-ed was reprinted in dailies throughout Mexico, reflecting the despair that has seized the Mexican media and society in general.
Yesterday, a security spokesman for President Felipe Calderon, in a slap at El Diario's editorial, said that no sector of society should negotiate with organized crime. Though the government vowed to investigate the slaying, in fact, 90 percent of press-related crimes go unpunished in Mexico, according to a recent report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
21-year-old Luis Carlos Santiago was shot by suspected cartel hit men on Thursday, while he and a photographer intern sat in a car in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The other young man survived, and reportedly is in good condition.
Jose Lucio Soria, longtime crime photographer at El Diario, stood outside the wake for his young colleague and pledged that the newspaper cannot back off the story.
JOSE LUCIO SORIA: (Through translator) We have to work, we have to take pictures. In fact, there were photographers at the crime scene taking photos of one of their own. But that's our job.
BURNETT: Motives for last week's attack on the photographers are unclear. As it happens, the vehicle in which they were shot belonged to a well-known state human rights monitor, who has himself received death threats. But there's currently no evidence it was a case of mistaken identity.
While investigative reporting in Mexico is unwise, Juarez has had the most robust journalism of any border city under siege. Most cities with high levels of drug violence simply don't cover crime news anymore, which is why it would be a tragedy if Diario further restricts its reporters, says Lourdes CÃ¡rdenas, a Mexican journalist and lecturer at the University of Texas at El Paso.
LOURDES CARDENAS: If you compare Ciudad de Juarez press with Tamaulipas press or Ciudad de Victoria press, the reporters cannot say anything. They are really, really, really afraid. And in Juarez they have challenged that fear.
BURNETT: At least up until now, some of the journalists in Juarez have been standing up to the drug cartels.
John Burnett, NPR News, El Paso.
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