Connect to share and comment

Journalist murders in Mexico hit new record

Censorship increases as killings become routine. "I don’t want to die young," says one reporter.

A relative reacts after arriving at a crime scene where 17 patients were killed at a rehabilitation center in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Sept. 2, 2009. (Alejandro Bringas/Reuters)

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Like on any other Monday morning, reporter Bladimir Antuna kissed his family goodbye and set off in his Ford SUV to work the crime beat at a local newspaper in Durango city.

Hours later his lifeless corpse was found beaten, strangled and dumped outside a public hospital.

“This is what happened to me for giving information to the military and writing what I shouldn’t. Take care of your texts before you do your story,” said a message scrawled on cardboard next to the cadaver.

Antuna’s brutal murder marks Mexico’s worst year on record for the slaying of its media workers, many who have been killed covering the relentless drug war. The incessant violence and intimidation is leading to many journalists to censor their coverage of the cartels and corresponding police corruption.

According to a tally by El Universal, the country’s top-selling newspaper, 12 reporters, photographers, editors and radio hosts have been slain this year — two more than in the previous worst year of 2006. The deaths — all of Mexicans working for local media — make the country the most dangerous for the trade in the Western hemisphere.

There have also been dozens of cases of journalists being threatened, beaten and having offices attacked with gunfire and grenades.

Particularly concerning is how the murders have become so frequent they now fail to grab much attention — either in Mexico or in the United States. Antuna’s slaying gained only scant coverage, lost in a sea of more than 5,000 apparent drug-related killings here this year.

International media groups say they are also concerned about how Mexican authorities have failed to bring the killers to justice or give journalists adequate protection despite the escalating attacks.

In May, gunmen fired on Antuna’s house in apparent warning shots. He had also reported receiving threatening phone calls.

Officials “knew about death threats Bladimir Antuna received but did nothing to protect him,” press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a news release. “It is unacceptable … . Once again, we call on the federal authorities to set up protection programs to put an end to this grisly toll.”

In 2006, Mexico appointed David Vega as special prosecutor for crimes against journalists to deal with the mounting body count. Vega resigned nine months later without successfully prosecuting a single murder case.