Mexican foundation fights for stronger journalism at home

jueves, 30 de julio de 2009

WASHINGTON - In Mexico, the only thing drug cartels and public officials seem to share is hostility toward local journalists, who have the unenviable job of writing about both of them.

Since 2007, more than 25 media professionals have been killed or disappeared in Mexico, according to the International Center for Journalists, which works to advance press freedom worldwide.

But two Latin American media impresarios are trying to say goodbye to all that.

Forty-nine-year-old Benjamin Fernandez, a Knight International Journalism Fellow from Paraguay, and Armando Prida, 60, a publisher of Mexico’s Sintesis newspapers, have launched theFoundation for Freedom of Expression, Mexico’s first non-government organization set up to strengthen the country’s fourth estate.

“We believe that the quality of journalists show the quality of Mexican society,” Fernandez said Tuesday at the National Press Club, where he and Prida spoke at an event organized by the International Center for Journalists.

Added Fernandez, “Some people say if you want to know the health of the body you need to show how your tongue is. So the tongue is the journalism.”

The foundation, which opened its doors in November of last year, aims to influence media at all levels of Mexican society. It wants to revolutionize journalism training in Mexican universities, where Fernandez said the curricula is “poor” and “not good.”

“The most important part of this program … is to make Mexican journalism more professional.”

His group has published a how-to manual for journalists looking to access to the most basic public information and raise their computer-assisted reporting skills.

Another aim, he said, is to firm up journalists’ rights and legal protection in a culture of impunity in which reporters are subject to constant, violent harassment.

“Everybody cries the first day,” Prida said, describing the typical aftermath of a journalist’s violent death.

“The third day nobody remembers the name of the person killed.”

Indeed, the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization which documents abuses against reporters, has ranked Mexico tenth on its “Impunity Index.”

The higher a nation’s ranking, the more noxious the environment is for the media. Mexico keeps company with Iraq, Somalia, and Sierra Leone.

Aspects of Mexican culture may even be problematic.

Referencing "The Labryinth of Solitude", a book about Mexican identity by the country's Nobel-prize winning writer Octavio Paz, Fernandez said there is a tradition of secretiveness in Mexican society, a hindrance on the road toward a free and open press.

Prida ended the panel in Washington with a stern call for support from American news media organizations, warning the American attendees about the potential for Mexico’s media struggle to cross the border.

“If you don’t take care about all the people, more than your borders, someday you’ll have problems here.”


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