Mexico is considered the most dangerous place for journalists in Latin America, with more than twenty reporters killed there since 2000, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Another seven have gone missing since 2005 and are presumed dead. Not surprisingly, says the Columbia Journalism Review, the rising violence–and the sense that the government not only offers little protection but in some cases is just as threatening as the gangsters–is having a chilling effect on Mexican journalism. The story of the drug traffickers is becoming increasingly off limits, even as it spreads and intensifies throughout the country. Self-censorship has become now a matter of self-preservation, and news outlets are avoiding publishing or broadcasting anything that could trigger a reprisal.
For many, that means no cartel names, no witness identities, no revealing photographs. Some newspapers have dropped bylines, and others have abandoned crime stories altogether. Intimidation is a factor for every journalist, from community radio reporters to top editors at the most influential outlets. The diminution of the press couldn't come at a worse time. In the past decade, the Mexican cartels have taken advantage of the decline of Colombia's Medellín and Cali cartels to become some of the world's most dominant drug smugglers. Their prize: control of a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry that provides drug users–particularly in the U.S.–their fix of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana.