Despite our wired lifestyles and the ability to access many of the world’s top newspapers online, getting a read on the journalistic ecosystem of a country can be tough. That’s especially true when a country’s press freedom is endangered.
Reporters without Borders has named Mexico “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists,” noting that the “collusion between organized crime and the political and administrative authorities” has undermined freedom of information.
But what does this mean at ground level? In what kind of climate are reporters working? Under what intense pressure? And what do their colleagues abroad, as well as readers, need to know in order to understand how news gets produced and published in Mexico?
These questions, and many others, are answered in these four documentaries about contemporary journalism in Mexico. Ranging dramatically in both style and length, when considered together, these films explain the challenging contexts in which reporting occurs today in Mexico.
Silencio Forzado (Forced Silence)
This 25-minute documentary, released in 2012 by Article 19, is a comprehensive overview of the contemporary journalism ecosystem in Mexico. Interviewees speak mostly in Spanish, but some, including foreign journalists working in Mexico, speak in English, and the entire documentary is subtitled, making it fully accessible to a bilingual audience.
What’s particularly noteworthy about this documentary is that its talking heads are all reporters, editors and the family members of journalists who have been killed. Female journalists are well-represented, which is important, as the emphasis on the dangers of reporting in Mexico typically focus on male reporters almost exclusively. Silencio Forzado also does a good job of incorporating not only traditional media outlets, including national and regional newspapers and radio stations, but also newer publications, including the online outlet, Animal Político.
Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty)
While this 88-minute documentary (in Spanish but with English subtitles) is not exclusively--or even primarily--about journalism in Mexico, its treatment of the subject, as well as its own dramatic impact on the news, makes it a must-see.
Presunto Culpable was conceptualized by two attorneys who were attempting to get their client, Antonio Zúñiga, exonerated after he was convicted falsely for crimes he did not commit. The documentary exposes all the absurdities of Mexico’s criminal justice system by making an iron-clad case for the client. The abundance of evidence in Zúñiga’s favor, however, is completely ignored by the system until the lawyers finally convince judges hearing an appeal to watch the footage they’ve shot.
The film’s 2011 release broke all box office records in Mexico for documentary films and was nominated for three Emmys, including one in the category of “Best Investigative Journalism,” but it also made headlines for another reason: just a month after its release, a judge tried to ban the film. This attempt to censor the film only made it more popular and further exposed the murky and often sinister relationships among the various stakeholders, including media, who are supposed to inform and protect the public.
Los Demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden)
Lydia Cacho is well-known throughout Mexico for her reporting on prostitution and child sex trafficking, though she is not nearly as famous outside the country of her birth, despite the numerous international awards she’s received forher investigative journalism. Cacho’s brave, unflinching reporting has taken a toll on her, however. In 2006, a recorded conversation between a businessman and the then-governor of the state of Puebla revealed that the two men were conspiring to have Cacho kidnapped and raped. She was, in fact, arrested and beaten, and ended up taking her case to the Supreme Court. She was the first woman to appear before the court as a plaintiff.
Los Demonios del Edén (in Spanish) is the documentary version of a book by the same name that set the conspiracy, imprisonment and court drama into motion. Cacho’s reporting on child pornography and pedophilia had been published in newspapers, but it was the detailed account in this book that provoked the ire of those she named as perpetrators.
The 2007 documentary underscores the dangers of reporting about organized crime in Mexico--especially for female journalists-- and brings these dangers to life, showing how much devastation they have wrought on individuals and communities, and, of course, on Cacho herself.
Soy El Número 16 (“I Am Number 16”)
This 10-minute documentary, presented in animation, is no less vivid than Los Demonios del Edén and, in fact, may be equally powerful and poignant. Through drawings and voice-overs, the journalist narrating the film recounts his kidnapping in 2012.
Luis Cardona had been documenting kidnappings in the state of Chihuahua, and had covered 15 of these “secuestros.” As he says in the opening lines of the documentary, released just this year, “I was number 16.”
The choice to animate this graphic story rather than use video footage or interviews gives the documentary a particular power and makes it largely accessible to an English-speaking audience, even though the narration is in Spanish, with no subtitles.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Kit