Nov 19, 2008

More Mexican border journalists are targeted for attacks

Copyright (C) Peace Books & Peace at the Border

The Brutal Murder of Jose "Pepe" Ramirez
More journalists targeted
By Kelly McKenzie
Nov. 19, 2008

JUAREZ -- The murder of Jose "Pepe" Ramirez, a radio journalist who was brutally murdered eight years ago in Juarez, remains unsolved.
By most accounts, Ramirez was a mild-mannered but hard-working reporter who was liked by his colleagues. His radio news program often dealt with local politics, yet was considered uncontroversial.
Ramirez, whose body was found inside his car, was stabbed more than 30 times. Police also reported finding a bundle of marijuana in the trunk of his car.
Initially, authorities made it appear as though Ramirez was killed because he was somehow involved in drug-trafficking.
However, Ramirez had a squeaky clean reputation, and at the end of the official investigation that led nowhere, it was generally accepted someone had planted the marijuana in his vehicle.
Some interesting testimonies came out shortly after his death, including leads the authorities failed to pursue.
Not unlike some of his colleagues in Mexico, Ramirez provided information to a Mexican intelligence agency known as CISEN, the equivalent of the United States' CIA. A CISEN credential was among the items recovered from his possessions. He was paid for the information, and the bank account set up for this was shut down after his body was discovered.
His death though unsolved provided unique insights into how journalism functions in some parts of Mexico.
For example, another Juarez journalist, a high-level editor, regularly sells information to U.S. and Mexican intelligence agencies, as well as to other sources, according to several of his current and former employees.
At another news outlet in Juarez, a newsroom manager told Peace at the Border, "We have a CISEN plant in our newsroom, but we don't know who it is. We also have a mole who spies on us for (a competitor)."
A couple of Juarez reporters said a smaller media outlet in the city's center operates a drug storefront, an allegation easily proven with the purchase of a small amount of marijuana at the customer counter.
The practice of governments (city, state and federal) that pay news media outlets to carry its publicidad or publicity, continues to be widespread in Mexico. Governments set aside money in their budgets to dole out to news companies so their press releases will be published, often disguised as genuine news stories.
Businesses, police and sports and entertainment promoters also provide reporters with cash gifts (embutes), openly distributed at news conferences or privately at law enforcement offices or in bars, for collaborating or as a token of gratitude.
Reforma newspaper, which has built up its financial structure in a way that it does not depend on government publicidad, adopted a policy to reject all government funds. Although the practice is legal in Mexico, accepting money for publicidad makes news media outlets dependant on government sources.
In Juarez, Norte's editors said the Chihuahua state government under former Gov. Patricio Martinez punished the newspaper by withholding state publicidad funds.
And, announcers of the popular radio program "Grueso Calibre," including Tony Tirado and Samira Izaguirre, who reported aggressively on the inconsistencies of official investigations into the Juarez women's murders, were penalized by having their publicidad cut off and by being blacklisted and threatened.
Back then, none of the other Juarez media rose up to defend the announcers, who also raised their funds to travel to Mexico City to demand justice and break the media silence surrounding the murders in Juarez.
Several other sources consulted for this report said honest journalists who refuse to play along with unethical arrangements are blacklisted, and forced out of jobs without the possibility of being hired by someone else in their hometown.
Rosa Isela Perez, a courageous former Juarez newspaper reporter who won a national award for her reporting on the women's murders, was told by a news media company interested in hiring her that she was highly qualified but was "too hot" to be hired.
Who killed "Pepe" Ramirez? The answer has been left up to speculation.
"Before his death, Ramirez witnessed a connection between a TV journalist and policemen who operated a stash house that had caught fire," said Diana Washington Valdez, author of "The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women. "The building that burned down was used by police to store marijuana."
Mexican Congressman Gerardo Priego Tapia announced this week that five more Mexican journalists were targeted for death before the end of year. Armando "Choco" Rodriguez," who was shot to death Nov. 13, apparently was on the hit list.