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Border editors, publishers, reporters agree to combat violence, impunity in Mexico

(IAPA/IFEX) - El Paso, Texas - December 7, 2010 - Yesterday's conclusions at the Border Editors and Newspaper Publishers Forum made it resoundingly clear that the worst enemies that news media and journalists face on the northern border of Mexico are impunity and violence generated by organized crime - issues that cannot be left to the government alone to solve.

Some 100 editors, publishers, reporters and academics brought together by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) for the two-day forum on the campus of the University of Texas in El Paso not only analyzed the situation faced by the Mexican press, which this year alone lost 11 journalists at the hands of organized crime and the illicit drug trade, but also studied how to make the profession safer under government protection.

They approached the problem from three angles: what the Mexican government should do, what the Mexican and United States media need to do, and the role that should be played by organizations dedicated to press freedom and the promotion and advancement of journalism.

The hosts – IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín and ASNE President Milton Coleman – agreed that the principal mission of journalists and press organizations is to persevere so that violence against journalists and the impunity surrounding such crimes is at the top of the public agenda and to keep up the pressure on the Mexican government to carry out its promises. Marroquín and Coleman's reference is based on the pledge that Mexico's President Felipe Calderón recently made to the IAPA to have crimes against journalists made federal offenses, to create a system of protection, and to look into ways of stiffening penalties for offenses against freedom of expression and ensuring that they are not subject to statutes of limitation.

In the review of the dangerous situation that Mexican journalists face in the border states most affected by the illicit drug trade, there was agreement regarding the media's responsibility to provide better working conditions and to set up training programs to neutralize the effect and temptations of organized crime. In addition, alliances with United States media will be promoted to provide new channels of information, Web sites and blogs to prevent the need for self-censorship, as well as the development of new journalistic forms and collaborative techniques.

In several panel discussions by Mexican journalists, the topics of self-censorship and reflection were highlighted, in particular the need for the media to be more united and mutually supportive in order to create a common front with a strong and uniform voice before the government. In discussions involving foreign editors and publishers, suggestions emerged concerning how violence and impunity were combated in countries such as Colombia, while press organization representatives defended common international strategies to continue the demand for action by the governments of Mexico and other countries where violence against the press is common.

Among a number of individual presentations of particular note were those of former IAPA president Alejandro Junco de la Vega, head of the Reforma publishing group, who painted a dark picture of the culture of crime overtaking Mexico, and of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero, who detailed a series of legal reforms made by the Felipe Calderón government to combat impunity. Another speaker was Mexican Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, Gustavo Salas Chávez.

In addition to Marroquín and Junco de la Vega the IAPA was represented by Robert Rivard of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas; Milton Coleman of The Washington Post, Washington, DC, and Anders Gyllenhaal of McClatchy Newspapers in their status as officers of IAPA and ASNE; José Santiago Healy of El Diario, San Diego, California; Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz; Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti, and María Idalia Gómez and Darío Fritz, investigators with the IAPA's Rapid Response Unit in Mexico.

This joint ASNE-IAPA event had the support of the Ford Foundation, Associated Press news agency and the newspaper El Paso Times. The two organizations will continue their strategic alliance in 2011 organizing a joint bi-annual meeting in San Diego April 6-9, and just prior to that holding the Hemisphere Conference on Freedom of Expression at the headquarters of the Institute of the Americas.

The forum is part of the IAPA's anti-impunity agenda and follows up on the promises of President Calderón who, some weeks ago, participated, along with lawmakers from his country, in the organization's General Assembly held in Mérida in the Mexican state of Yucatán.

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