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Organised crime is media's greatest threat, says RSF

Organised crime in the form of drug cartels, mafias or paramilitary forces poses the greatest threat to journalists today, according to a new report released last week by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Since 2000, 141 journalists have been killed for reporting on organised crime, the report says.

"Muscling in on the Media" claims that since the end of the Cold War, the media's leading predators have been organised criminals - even worse and more widespread than the world's oppressive regimes and dictatorships, says RSF. No continent is left untouched, says RSF, which assembled the report with the help of its local correspondents and through interviews with journalists on every continent.

The report notes the challenges and dangers of reporting on organised crime - coverage of which often amounts to no more than a body count - mainly because it operates in a powerful parallel economy that is both elusive and inaccessible, and "that will not be brought down by the arrest of any godfather or drug lord."

"The media are not united against organised crime, their correspondents are isolated and lack resources, and their capacity for investigative reporting is eclipsed by the race for breaking news," says the report.

The emblematic case is Mexico, which has been home to a federal offensive by 50,000 soldiers against the drug cartels since December 2006, as well as turf wars among the cartels themselves. "Either we are tortured or killed or we live under a permanent threat, not so much because of what we report, since there is so much self-censorship, but because of what we know or what we are assumed to know," a journalist from drug-riddled Ciudad Juárez told RSF.

Plus, the report says, the media are not just victims; they can even be co-opted to serve as public relations outlets. For instance, RSF points to Russian-Israeli businessman Mikhail Chorny, who had a majority stake in the Bulgarian paper "The Standard". Even though he was convicted for money laundering and wanted by Interpol, he maintained his holdings of the paper using front men.

RSF doesn't claim to offer definitive solutions, but it does provide several recommendations, including the sharing of sources and information by reporters covering the same "conflict zone"; an alert/support system for journalists in high-risk areas; and training specific to covering organised crime.

Read "Muscling in on the Media" here (in PDF).

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