Mexican journalists: Risking their lives by telling the truth

First aired on As it Happens (30/1/12)

In the words of the renowned Mexican poet Elena Poniatowska, "In Mexico, to tell the truth is to risk your life."

This is a particularly problematic truth for journalists in that country, many of whom have been brutally murdered just for doing their job: publishing stories that expose corruption.

On Sunday, writers from Mexico and around the world gathered in Mexico City to support journalists who risk their lives to tell the stories of drug violence and organized crime. Leading the event was PEN International — the writers' group that promotes freedom of expression. American poet Jennifer Clement currently lives in Mexico, and is the president of PEN Mexico. She recently spoke to Helen Mann on As it Happens about the situation there.

"The journalists who are writing about organized crime in Mexico, and the organized crime that has infiltrated into local governments, are in terrible danger, and one of the things that PEN is very worried about is self-censorship. People aren't writing about it anymore because it's too dangerous, you'll get yourself killed," said Clement. "That's a big worry for democracy and freedom of expression."

This issue is PEN Mexico's primary concern right now. "When I was first elected president of PEN Mexico, it was very clear that we somehow had to address what was happening here," said Clement. At first she was unsure of how to help, so she sought advice from the pro-freedom of speech organization Article 19. "They said 'What PEN can do that nobody else can do is bring important writers to the table.'"

So PEN Mexico collected signatures and support from writers around the world. "There was this extraordinary letter signed by 70 writers from around the world including seven Nobel Prize winners," she said. "It's had quite a profound effect, because in general, I think Mexican journalists have felt very abandoned by the international community."

Although letters from Nobel Prize winners don't bring back dead journalists, they still send a strong message of support, according to Clement. "I think that [Mexican journalists] feel visible, and that the eyes of the world are going to be on the situation," she said. "I mean, not a single killing of a journalist has been prosecuted. There's nobody in jail for having killed a journalist, and there's been 70 journalists killed or disappeared, and many have been kidnapped."

Does Clement expect the climate to improve with the upcoming Mexican elections? "I think that pressure from outside the country is a very huge force," she said. "This has just begun, and I hope that it will continue to happen that whatever party wins and whoever's the president will feel that the international community is not going to sit by and watch this."