BY Rodney Pinder

Blog: Latin American journalists smothered in deadly web of terror

It is often said that in war, the first casualty is truth. In peacetime, in far too many countries, the first casualties of truth-telling are the journalists.

When states abdicate their duty of care to all of their citizens, journalists who seek to uncover crime and official corruption become targets – they die trying to tell the story. And states that allow the killers to escape justice encourage more of the same.

Mexico and Brazil – tragic examples

If more evidence of this terrible neglect of duty were needed, we have seen it yet again in recent days in Mexico and Brazil – tragic examples of the perfect storm of crime and corruption engulfing many journalists - especially in Latin America.

Photojournalist Ruben Espinosa was tortured and shot in the head in Mexico City. In Brazil, crusading journalist Gleydson Carvalho was gunned down in his broadcasting studio. Few entertain much hope of successful prosecutions.

According to INSI figures in nine out of 10 cases of journalist murders around the world there are no convictions.

At least 52 journalists have been murdered in Mexico and more than 40 in Brazil over the past decade and few killers have been held to account. Both countries are plagued by crime and corruption, and their governments appear unable – or unwilling – to face up to their first duty – the safety of their citizens.

Bacchanal of death and pain

It is a common problem throughout Latin America, where drug lords, with compliant officials in their pockets, wield enormous power.

A couple of years ago I attended a forum for journalism in the Americas. Hardened journalists from around the globe were shocked by their Latin American colleagues’ tales of torture, mutilation and murder. They spoke of how criminals and officials, even police and military, were smothering journalists in a deadly web of terror.

Prominent Mexican journalist Daniela Pastrana stunned the conference when she said a colleague had asked her to bring him back a gun from America. Not to defend himself, she explained, but to ensure he was never taken alive to endure an unspeakable end.

“Fear and death arrived at our doors, at our homes,” said Pastrana, as she accepted the 2015 Free Media Pioneer Award at the IPI World Congress last March.

“Without knowing how, without being prepared, we journalists became war correspondents in our own country. First in the line of fire, we fell victims to a strategy that used terror to hide information, to bury it in graves  and dissolve it with acid. It is a strategy whose result has been a bacchanal of death and pain.”

It is also, she might have added, a strategy that seems to be without end.

Rodney Pinder is INSI’s former director. You can listen here to his podcast on the dangers faced by Latin American journalists.

Image by AFP