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IFEX members step up fight to protect journalists

Last month, when a photographer was shot dead in the drug-addled city of Ciudad Juárez, his newspaper ran a front-page editorial offering to compromise its drug coverage in an effort to keep its journalists alive. It was a stunning example of self-censorship, but unfortunately, not an isolated one. In response, IFEX members in recent weeks have gotten an audience with the President, used YouTube to campaign, and, united, have taken matters into their own hands to address the security needs of Mexican journalists.

In the border town of Nuevo Laredo, where the government is unsuccessfully trying to stop the drug war, journalists are told to turn a blind eye to the violence. That's what we learn from the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), with a new, five-minute video highlighting self-censorship and the lack of punishment for those who attack the press.

Watching "In the Line of Fire", viewers are taken inside the newsroom of Nuevo Laredo's newspaper "El Mañana", with bullet marks still on the wall when reporter Jaime Orozco was shot in the back and paralysed. Now, journalists work under the slogan, "No story is worth dying for." The documentary, in Spanish with English subtitles (using Google's closed captioning feature), is just one of a series of videos highlighting IAPA's international campaign to end impunity.

IAPA teamed up with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to take their demands straight to Mexico's President Felipe Calderón, who on 22 September personally promised to implement a programme to provide security to at-risk journalists, and to push for legislation that would make attacks on journalists a federal crime. Calderón said, "It pains me that Mexico is seen as one of the most dangerous places for the profession."

At a forum organised in Mexico by IAPA and CPJ the following day, called "Mexico Under Siege by Organised Crime", the two groups said they would continue to press Calderón to stick to his promises, and demanded attendees to do the same.

According to the Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS), the government's response to the increasing insecurity for journalists is barely palpable. Nor does it have a vision that recognises that security concerns differ for men and women.

So in a two-day workshop on 9-10 September, CENCOS, along with International Media Support and the Open Society Institute, brought together a number of free expression groups - including 10 IFEX members - to tackle the government's shortcomings and explore ways to collaborate to better protect journalists. Plans include considering the professional and psychological needs of the attack victims and creating policies for covering stories in high-risk areas.

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