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Deborah Mazon – WNN Features
(WNN) VERACRUZ: International members of the media and advocates around the globe speak with alarm and concern about the death of Mexican journalist Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz and the dangers for women journalists throughout Mexico
As the body of Mexico crime reporter Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz (Yolanda Ordaz) was found behind the offices of the newspaper Imagen de Veracruz in the twilight morning on Tuesday, 26 July, in the city of Boca del Rio, near the gulf of Veracruz, a sharp and dangerous message was sent to all reporters who cover crime in Mexico.
With a clear and gruesome message meant to reach journalists throughout Mexico and the world, Ordaz’s body was found decapitated. A note with a short written message was found along with her dead body saying, “Friends also betray.” It was signed with the name “Carranza.”
Reported missing since Sunday night after she told relatives she was leaving to cover a news story for her employers at the Veracruz news daily Notiver, Ordaz never returned home.
“We are appalled at the spiraling violence against journalists in Mexico,” said director for IPI – the International Press Institute, Alison Bethel McKenzie. “The situation appears to be out of control, and the killers of journalists are operating with impunity,” she continued.
Following the beat on many investigative stories that included drug cartels and detailed police crime reports, Ordaz as a staff journalist for Notiver had recently received personal death threats.
She was also investigating the details in the recent 20 June murder of one of her Notiver co-workers, Miguel Ángel López Velasco, who was assistant editorial director and columnist for the paper. López Velasco had been shot to death with his wife and son in their home only weeks preceding Ordaz’s murder.
According to the Associated Press, the signature (Carranza) left in the note found on the body of Ordaz is the same name used by Veracruz traffic policeman, Juan Carlos Carranza Saavedra, who is now considered a high level suspect in the López Velasco murder. It has not been determined whether or not this note has been fraudulently signed by someone else who may be responsible for the Ordaz’ murder.
“The murder of any journalist is not only heinous but diminishes the society in which they live,” says Lisa B. Anderson, consulting editor for Thomson Reuters Foundation TrustLaw Women. “The gruesome murder of veteran Mexican reporter Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz—the fourth such murder of a journalist in Veracruz this year—underscores the dangers increasingly faced by journalists around the world and particularly in Mexico, where the murders of 13 journalists remain unsolved this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.”
The murder and attack of women journalists is not a local problem in Mexico, it is a serious ongoing global crime where journalist are at risks worldwide in experiencing many forms of violence for exposing criminals. Women journalists, because of their gender, are also specifically vulnerable to sexual assault as a form of intimidation.
“…Where my experience is from, violence against Women journalists comes from an angry public (especially in small island communities) just as much as it comes from with the newsrooms. The threat of violence, both physical and sexual, is one that many women in media are exposed to in Melanesia where conflict situations and human security is an issue of goverance and newsgathering,” said New Zealand journalist Lisa Williams-Lahari, Regional coordinator of Media for Democracy and Human Rights in the Pacific, sponsored by the IFJ – International Federation of Journalists.
Williams-Lahiri has worked many years as an advocate for transparency and freedom of the press in the Asia Pacific region. She is originally from the Samoan-Cook Islands.
“Any violence against journalists is appalling,” says Joseph Mayton, journalist and founder of the Egypt based news network Bikya Masr and part of the WNN news desk in Cairo. “As someone who knows first-hand how difficult it is for women reporters to cover the stories in their countries, the murder of a journalist hits hard. Here in Egypt, for example, the daily harassment women face is only confounded when that woman is a journalist,” continued Mayton.
In 2007, thirty-five-year-old Afghan radio journalist Zakia Zaki was shot seven times and killed while she slept with her three year old son. While her son was not injured, he and her other children are also considered victims to the violence that has been directed at Afghanistan journalists for years. Zaki was the founder of Kabul radio station Sada-e-Sulh (Peace Radio) based north of Kabul that broadcasted educational programming throughout Parvan province before it closed after Zaki’s death. Zaki was also a school teacher as well as a developed radio jockey.
“She believed in freedom of expression, that’s why she was killed,” said Rahimullah Samander, leader of the Independent Association of Afghan Journalists and head of Azadi Radio in Kabul. Along with seven other murder cases of journalists in Afghanistan over the last ten years, Zakia Zaki’s case is still unsolved and without prosecution.
“Women journalists who are reporting in regions where criminals go unchecked and unprosecuted are in particular danger,” says Lys Anzia, founder and editor-at-large for Women News Network – WNN.
Now women journalists in Mexico are facing increasing dangers as crime rings tighten their grip on the press. Some journalists (both male and female) who are in a direct and close line of danger are choosing to leave their home regions to seek safety elsewhere, because of ongoing personal threats. Others are standing their ground but losing long-standing jobs with newspapers where they work because the risks of danger to themselves and the paper are now considered “too great.”
“Women journalists in Mexico face a double vulnerability covering the constant outbreak of violence that spills buckets of blood all too frequently,” says National Project Director for Media Equity Collaborative Ariel Doughtery. “While indiscriminately male or female reporters can equally be murdered for reporting on the perpetual criminal offenses, female journalists can additionally become sexually victimized while covering the disappearance of women, migrants and others.”
“Due to the violence against reporters, local and national media groups are using outsourcing companies to subcontract journalists. This allows them to avoid legal responsibilities such as medical, legal or even funeral benefits if an attack or an assassination occurs,” said Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a co-recipient of the 2010 International Press Freedom Award by CJFE – Canadian Journalist for Free Expression.
Because of the mounting dangers against journalists in Mexico, Gutiérrez Soto has left his country and now lives in exile in the U.S.
Violence in Mexico is “on the increase,” said a recent May 2011 report by the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Total drug profits by the Mexican cartels nationwide are down however, outlines the Associated Press in an online interactive map that tries to keep track of Mexico’s shifting cartels.
From 2006 to May 2010, approximately 34,612 people have died in organized crime-related killings in Mexico said the U.S. Senate report. “While major reforms are being implemented, the police remain undertrained and underequipped,” quotes the report. “Corruption runs rampant among municipal and state police,” they add.
Many police in Mexico are viewed as “part of the problem instead of part of the solution,” said Professor Daniel Sabet of Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service who has also been a program director for the NSIC – Culture of Lawfulness Project.
In September 2010 the largest newspaper in Mexico city of Ciudad Juarez , “El Diario de Juarez,” published a front page plea to the nation’s drug cartels asking them to stop their attacks on journalists. “We do not want more death, injury and intimidation,” said El Dairio de Juarez. “Under these conditions, we cannot work. Explain what you expect from us. Tell us, what should we write or not write,” continued the front page message.
It is undetermined if this message by the Mexican press decreased or increased the attacks on those who continued to report crime in Mexico. Since the publication of the public plea the violence and killing has continued.
In spite of the clear dangers numerous women journalists are continuing to work in Mexico and in other global regions.
“What is lacking is the public attention for these women journalists, ” sais Liza Gross, Executive Director of IWMF – International Women’s Media Foundation in a recent interview with Women News Network – WNN.
IWMF has recently announced their ‘2011 Courage in Journalism Award’ winners. One of the winners, Adela Navarro Bello, Mexico journalist and general director of Zeta newsmagazine in Tijuana, is determined not to stop reporting in spite of dangers and the murder of one of her staff members.
“I’ve been poisoned with the truth,” she said. “I can’t stop.”
The IWMF award is bringing recognition to the “crucial” role women in the media are playing with global press rooms located in regions that are filled with social unrest and corruption.
“I work as a journalist in Ukraine where democracy is 210 years behind the United States. Words are my weapons. Every week the readers of my newspaper wait for my words, but those same words frighten the leaders of the local government,” said Ukraine journalist Tatyana Goryachova at the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards in 2003.
“We aren’t afraid to write about the drug cartels and run the names of people who are hurting our society. We tell the police who they are. That’s the kind of journalism we do. We go everywhere and cover everything. We won’t remain silent,” says 2011 award recipient Navarro Bello.
“The Mexican government must put an end to this endless wave of violence that is eroding the democratic system,” said Carlos Lauría, Senior Program Coordinator for the Americas for CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists, as the death of López Velasco and his family was announced by CPJ in June.
“Nowhere else in the world would such repeated and violent attacks on journalists be permitted,” said Darío Ramirez director of the London based human rights organization ARTICLE 19.
To date, fifteen Mexican journalists have now been killed since the beginning of 2010. A number of them have been deeply involved in the investigation of police cases as well as cases covering drug and human trafficking crimes.
“Ordaz was one of those journalists who were exposed to danger because of their reporting speciality,” says Reporters Without Borders, an international advocacy group working for freedom of the press as well as the safety of journalists around the globe.
In spite of public outcry and government attempts to slow the illegal immigration of drugs, the specter of violence brought by the cartels continue to hold Mexico under siege.
Although Mexico President Felipe Calderón has promised to push for strict provisions that will make the murder of any journalist in Mexico a “federal crime,” as well as the signing of a document by Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora which was authored in part by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, the Calderón administration has failed to implement and bring this issue of journalist safety to the front of their agenda.
Legal justice with the murders of women journalists is not common. The famous case in the contract murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the later abduction and murder of woman journalist and human rights defender, Natalya Estemirova are still unsolved.
“In a climate fraught with suspicion and self-censorship, there is an urgent need for mechanisms to protect journalists,” says Reporters Without Borders.
“ARTICLE 19 calls on the Veracruz government and, in particular, Governor Javier Duarte and General Attorney Reynaldo Escobar Pérez to fully and promptly investigate the murder,” says the London based organization. They also are now calling: “on the government to offer security to the families of Notiver staff, to ensure that they can continue to fulfill their role as journalists for the sake of their community and for the rest of Mexico.”
Current rising statistics on violence against journalists in Mexico, the Middle East, the Philippines, Indonesia and regions of Africa does not look good for the women and men who work as journalists in the regions. In spite of this many reporters continue to work.
“Yolanda’s murder is unacceptable. It is atrocious. It is an atrocity,” said IWMF director Liza Gross.
“Let us hope that violence against women and reporters can end in the very near future,” says Joseph Mayton of Bikya Masr.
In the dark corners of the globe, brave women journalists are facing extreme danger every day. “All Guts, No Glamour” — produced by the IWMF – International Women’s Media Foundation — dramatically brings home the searing world of these amazing reporters.
For more information on this topic:
- “Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press,” CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists, August 2010;
- “Human Rights Organizations Condemn Murder of Women Journalists in Mexico,” Nobel Women’s Intiative, September 2011;
- “Press Freedom – Safety of Journalists and Impunity,” UNESCO, April 2008;
- “Getting Away With Murder – CPJ’s Impunity Index,” CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2011;
- “News Media: A Men’s Preserve That Is Dangerous For Women — Women and Press Freedom,” Reporters Without Borders, May 2011.
WNN Media Watch Officer Deborah Mazon is a dedicated rights defender who actively assisted and participated in Cesar Chavez marches and apartheid South Africa protests. She has been involved in numerous campaigns to empower women through the use of media. Her current work for women in development includes: “African (US) Descent History, News & Culture” and her visual arts blog, “International Women in Photography,” published through PNN – Personal News Network (founded by award winning journalist, Lauren Elliot, creator of the educational global geo-game series, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”)
As part of training programs to help bring and encourage greater transparency and self-regulation to media in South East Europe in 2009, UNESCO included Women News Network – WNN as an example of one of the outstanding professional networks showing high “Professional Journalistic Standards and Code of Ethics.” One of the publications by UNESCO, “Getting the Balance Right – Gender Equality in Journalism,” was designed and created specifically that year to help train emerging global women journalists in the field.
Additional research material for this story has also been provided by the editorial team at WNN.
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