Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 20: Mexican Newspaper (El Norte, Juárez) Closes Doors in Response to Cartel Targeting/Violence Against Journalists

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 20: Mexican Newspaper (El Norte, Juárez) Closes Doors in Response to Cartel Targeting/Violence Against Journalists

John P. Sullivan  and Robert J. Bunker 

On 2 April 2017, El Norte de Ciudad Juárez (El Norte) a Mexican newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua shuttered its operations in response to attacks on journalists by drug cartels.   El Norte’s publisher Oscar Cantú explained in a letter entitled “¡Adiós!” (Goodbye!) that the closure was a protest against the murders of journalists—including one of El Norte’s own, Miroslava Breach, who was assassinated by an unknown assailant on 23 March 2017—and the impunity that follows the attacks.  Breach, who was shot outside of her home, was covering the police beat and her recent reports had focused on corruption and the alleged collusion among criminal cartels (narcos), state police forces, and local politicians.

Source: El Norte, 2 April 2017

Key Information: Oscar Cantú, “‘¡Adiós!’: así anuncia su cierre el diario mexicano Norte tras el asesinato de una periodista.” Univision Noticias. 2 April 2017, http://www.univision.com/noticias/asesinatos/adios-asi-cierra-el-diario-mexicano-norte-digital-tras-el-asesinato-de-una-periodista:

El diario mexicano Norte de Ciudad Juárez, donde colaboraba la periodista asesinada Miroslava Breach, se despidió este domingo. Su dueño, Óscar Cantú Murguía, explicó en un editorial titulado "Adiós!" que la decisión es consecuencia de las agresiones mortales que sufren los reporteros y la impunidad que cierra las puertas a un periodismo "crítico".

"La trágica y sentida muerte de Miroslava Breach Velducea –colaboradora nuestra– el pasado 23 de marzo, me ha hecho reflexionar sobre las adversas condiciones en que se desarrolla el ejercicio del periodismo actualmente. El alto riesgo es el ingrediente principal", escribió Cantú Murguía en la nota editorial.

"Las agresiones mortales, así como la impunidad contra los periodistas, han quedado en evidencia, impidiéndonos continuar libremente con nuestro trabajo", señaló. "Este día, estimado lector, me dirijo a usted para informarle que he tomado la decisión de cerrar este matutino debido a que, entre otras cosas, no existen las garantías ni la seguridad para ejercer el periodismo crítico, de contrapeso", agregó.

Key Information: Christopher Mele and Sandra E. Garcia, “Mexican Newspaper Shuts Down, Saying It Is Too Dangerous to Continue.” New York Times. 3 April 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/world/americas/el-norte-closes-mexican-newspaper.html?_r=0:

With the headline “¡Adios!” in large type emblazoned across its front page, a newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, announced on Sunday that it was shutting down after nearly 30 years after three journalists from other news organizations were killed last month.

The newspaper, Norte, said in a letter printed on its front page that the killings and the increasing violence and threats against reporters meant that journalism had become a high-risk profession.

“Today, dear reader, I am speaking to you to inform you that I have decided to close this daily because the guarantee for the safety for us to continue journalism does not exist,” the newspaper executive Oscar A. Cantú Murguía, wrote, adding: “Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay. If this is what life is like, I am not ready for one more of my collaborators to pay for it and I am not either.”

Key Information: Rubén Villalpando, “Cierra el diario Norte de Juárez.” La Jornada. 3 April 2017, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/04/03/politica/003n1pol:

El periódico Norte de Ciudad Juárez dio a conocer su cierre definitivo debido a que ‘‘no existen las garantías ni la seguridad para ejercer el periodismo crítico, de contrapeso’’, manifestó Óscar Cantú Murguía, fundador y propietario del rotativo, en una carta publicada este domingo en lo que fue la última edición impresa del matutino, cuyo encabezado principal fue: ‘‘¡Adiós!’’

Argumentó: ‘‘La trágica y sentida muerte de Miroslava Breach—colaboradora de Norte de Ciudad Juárez y corresponsal de La Jornada en Chihuahua—el 23 de marzo, me ha hecho reflexionar sobre las adversas condiciones en que se desarrolla el ejercicio del periodismo. El alto riesgo es el ingrediente principal’’.

Key Information:  Laura Villagran, “Reporter’s slaying silences Juárez newspaper.” Albuquerque Journal. 17 April 2017, https://www.abqjournal.com/985857/reporters-slaying-silences-paper.html:

“How do they dare assassinate journalists? Because nothing happens,”Cantú Murguía says. “The issue is impunity. We don’t have the physical security or judicial security. The law doesn’t come down on those who commit these acts.”

“When you attack a journalist,” he says, “you are attacking society itself and its institutions—and democracy, a system that we should protect.”

Analysis

Attacks on journalists are a common feature in Mexico’s drug war.[1]  They challenge press freedom and foster impunity which, in turn, creates insecurity. In response to the latest series of attacks on journalists in Chihuahua, El Norte Cierra Norte de Ciudad Juárez shut down its print and digital operations after one of its journalists was assassinated in order to protest this violence and impunity.[2][3]

The closure follows the murder of Juárez journalist Miroslavia Breach, a correspondent for El Norte and La Jornada who was reporting on corruption, impunity, and illicit criminal-state networks. A narcomanta left at the scene of her murder said “tattletale.”[4] According to a report at La Jornada, the message read “Por lenga larga. Siguen llegados al gobernador y el gober. El 80” suggesting potential links in the murder to the Cartel de Juárez and the governor and thus further corruption and state-criminal linkages.[5]

Attacks on journalist and media outlets are mechanisms of intimidation used to dampen or influence reportage in favor of the criminal enterprise and/or corrupt state organs.  The attacks are a form of information operations that cause fear, instill terror, and often result in self-censorship by the press. Such attacks exist in a continuum of influence that can be exerted on journalists, radio broadcasters, and TV newscasters. This continuum ranges from placing media professionals on criminal and corrupted state payrolls—in essence, permanently co-opting them—through the use of periodic bribes, verbal and physical intimidation, and violence, to attacks resulting in murder.

By utilizing such Plata o Plomo (Silver or Lead) tactics, often interchangeably, cartel bosses and corrupted governmental officials are allowed to control traditional media narratives.  Thus, only that information those bosses and officials want the public to know is reported on, avoiding those incidents in which they are involved.

Additionally, fictitious events that have never taken place can also be reported on as ‘fake news’ by co-opted media outlets or outlets under the threat of ongoing physical violence.  

An outcome of this process is incremental environmental reportage modification within the towns, cities, and regions under cartel and corrupted governmental official control. This results in the generation of increasing levels of impunity in areas in which cartel bosses and corrupted officials operate. Not only does this allow them to continue to engage in their illicit activities unchallenged but also serves to reinforce their ongoing policy of assassinating journalists and other media professionals who would dare cross them with essentially no fear of prosecution.      

End Notes

[1] According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 40 journalists in Mexico have been killed since 1992.  Murders have been confirmed in 37 of these deaths, with 32 of the deaths considered cases of total impunity.  See CPJ database at https://cpj.org/killed/americas/mexico.

[2] “Cierra Norte de Ciudad Juárez su edición impresa.” El Diario. 2 April 2017, http://diario.mx/Local/2017-04-02_5a2f4cdc/cierra-norte-de-ciudad-juarez-su-edicion-impresa/ and Gabriela Minjáres, “Desaparecerá periódico Norte también su versión digital.” El Diario. 4 April 2017, http://diario.mx/Local/2017-04-03_d8f3dea8/desaparecera-periodico-norte-tambien-su-version-digital/.

[3] Mariana Pepe and Avinash Tharoor, “Five Journalists Killed, Newspaper Closed, amid Mexico Cartel Violence.” Talking Drugs. 3 May 2017, http://www.talkingdrugs.org/mexico-newspaper-closes-amid-spate-of-cartel-related-journalist-murders.

[4] Kate Linhicum, “So many journalists are being killed in Mexico that one newspaper decides to shut down.” Los Angeles Times. 3 April 2017, http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-newspaper-closing-20170403-story.html.

[5] El 80 is believed to be the moniker of Carlos Arturo Quintana, a key member of the La Línea enforcement gang linked with the Juárez cartel.  See “Miroslava Breach muere acribillada.” La Jornada. 24 March 2017, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2017/03/24/politica/002n1pol and ¿Quién es “El 80”? Tiempo, 6 October 2016, http://tiempo.com.mx/noticia/55720-quien_es_el_80/1.

Additional Reading

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Eds., Narcoterrorism and Impunity in the Americas: A Small Wars Journal Anthology. Bloomington: XLibris, 2016.

John P. Sullivan, “Attacks on Journalists and ‘New Media’ in Mexico’s Drug War: A Power and Counter Power Assessment.” Small Wars Journal, 9 April 2011.

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