An agreement for reporting violence?

29 09 2011

As you may know, Mexico is going through a rather tough period. The “war” fought between drug gangs and the government has so far left 40,000 dead. This level of violence was, until recently, unheard of in the country, and particularly in my hometown. Recently, though, I have found something interesting that I am not sure I agree with.

A few years ago, the news media reported about the gang wars fairly often. As the events became more frequent, and more gruesome, the media suddenly stopped reporting. Then the rumor mill started moving. Since the general media was not covering the news, other outlets filled that niche. These were mostly online blogs that commented on the events, and became the only source of information regarding cartel violence.

A few weeks ago, a couple of reporters from these outlets were found dead, hanging from a bridge (a sight that has become frequent in some cities). Few people in Mexico heard about this through the local or national news media. I found out about it in a british newspaper.

I recently learned that the reason these events are not being reported is because of a law, called the Acuerdo para la Cobertura Informativa de la Violencia (Agreement for the informative coverage of violence). This agreement was signed by several news outlets and journalistic associations. This agreement says that the media should oppose violence, try not to become a “speaker” for the gangs, protect the victims, and the reporters, and not spread fear, the result was that these kind of news were not reported anymore.

Since the media were not doing their job of informing the population, people started using twitter and other social media to send out information–about shootings, blockades, etc–so that the people were able to navigate the city safely. Now, at least one state has passed a law that prohibits the spread of information that “alters public order” through social media.

This law will do little to keep public order. Public order is already altered. Could it be then, that this law, conceived to keep the population from panicking, is actually backfiring by fueling rumors? Is there a better way to report on these issues?

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