A new proposal from Mexico's ruling party could send musicians to prison for performing songs that glorify drug trafficking.
The law would bring prison sentences of up to three years for people who perform or produce songs or movies glamorizing criminals.
"Society sees drug ballads as nice, pleasant, inconsequential and harmless, but they are the opposite," National Action Party lawmaker Oscar Martin Arce told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The ballads, known as "narcocorridos," often describe drug trafficking and violence, and are popular among some norteno bands. After some killings, gangs pipe narcocorridos into police radio scanners, along with threatening messages.
Martin said his party's proposal, presented before Congress on Wednesday, also takes aim at low-budget movies praising drug lords. It was unclear when lawmakers would vote on it.
'Yes, these are dangerous. Music affects emotion and emotion affects actions. But if they suppress it, won't it make it even more popular?' —Greg Etter, University of Central Missouri
"We cannot accept it as normal. We cannot exalt these people because they themselves are distributing these materials among youths to lead them into a lifestyle where the bad guy wins," he said.
Martin said the proposal's intention is not to limit free expression, but to stop such performances from inciting crimes.
But Elijah Wald, author of the book, Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas, said politicians are attempting to censor artists rather than attacking Mexico's real problems.
On his website, Wald has posted descriptions of dozens of past efforts to stop the songs, including radio broadcast bans and politicians' proposals.
"It is very hard to stop the drug trafficking," he said. "It is very easy to get your name in the papers by attacking famous musicians."
The norteno band Los Tigres del Norte cancelled their planned appearance at an awards ceremony at a government-owned auditorium in October after organizers allegedly asked the group not to perform their latest drug ballad.
Crackdown since 2006
Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a countrywide crackdown on drug cartels in late 2006, deploying tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police across Mexico.
Even performers who don't sing drug ballads have been caught up in recent raids.
In December Mexican authorities arrested Latin Grammy winner Ramon Ayala at a drug cartel's party in a gated community of mansions outside the central mountain town of Tepoztlan.
Ayala's attorney has said the accordionist and his band, Los Bravos del Norte, did not know their clients were suspected members of the Beltran Leyva cartel.
Greg Etter, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Missouri, said he agrees that narcocorridos promote violence.
"It affects their view of social normality, and that's what makes it dangerous," he said.
Martin said an alleged murderer recently told police he first got involved in organized crime because he liked the songs and wanted one to be composed about him one day.
But Etter said bands have been singing narcocorridos for more than 30 years, and legislators can't stop such a strong musical tradition.
"I don't see how you could put a lid on it," he said.
"Yes, these are dangerous. Music affects emotion and emotion affects actions. But if they suppress it, won't it make it even more popular?"