Day 6

Violence against journalists in Mexico goes unpunished and ignored

On Monday, prominent Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was shot dead. He was the sixth journalist killed since March. Exiled journalist Luis Najera, who fled Mexico in 2008, knows those dangers first-hand.
Journalists and photographers hold up pictures of slain journalists during a demonstration against the murder of Javier Valdez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

Luis Najera assumed the men in the car behind him were going to kill him. 

It was the middle of the night, and Najera — a reporter who covered organized crime — was on his way home from his office in Juarez, Mexico when he noticed that he was being tailed. 

When the men inside the car rolled down their windows, Najera could see their AK-47s. If they wanted to shoot him, he'd be dead.

He called a colleague from his news outlet, telling him to come retrieve his body if he didn't ring back in 15 minutes.

But as Najera tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, the vehicle eventually passed him by.

"I think they never received the [order] 'Yes, do it,' which is perfect for me," Najera recalls.

That close call was just one incident among many, he says. In 2008, after repeated death threats against his family, he was forced to flee his home in one of the world's the most violent cities and seek refuge in Canada.

Even today, Najera's story is hardly unique in Mexico. 

The country is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 41 journalists have been killed for their work since 1992.

In 2017 alone, six journalists have already lost their lives.

Candles and portraits of slain Mexican journalists are seen during a protest to demand that the Mexican government catch the killers of crime reporter Javier Valdez. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)


Prominent crime journalist killed

On Monday, internationally-renowned journalist Javier Valdez was shot and killed in northwestern Mexico. Valdez was known for his coverage of drug cartels in his home state of Sinaloa. 

His death triggered protests across the country. On Tuesday, several major news outlets in Mexico went dark to protest the ongoing violence and impunity against local journalists.

This isn't about changing the government. This is about changing a culture.- Exiled Mexican journalist Luis Najera

According to Najera, journalists who report on criminal organizations in Mexico struggle to keep themselves and their families safe. Since he left in 2008, he says the situation has gotten worse.

"There's an increasing impunity," he says. 

On March 23, Najera's former colleague Miroslava Breach was killed outside her home while waiting to take her child to school.

The attacker left a piece of cardboard with a message on it, saying that Breach had been killed because she "had a long tongue," Nadera says — meaning she talked too much.

Protesters at vigil for slain journalists demand justice

6 years ago
Duration 0:26
On Monday, prominent Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was shot dead


Problem with culture, more than just government

Responding to the news of the Valdez murder, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto called for solidarity and asked for a moment of silence for slain journalists. 

"It's the state of Mexico's obligation, as a whole, to grant guarantees to journalists so they can carry out their profession. Especially given the threat posed today by organised crime," he said Wednesday.

Peña Nieto has promised more resources for journalists who face threats of violence and the special prosecutor who investigates crimes against journalists.

But Najera isn't optimistic that this will change the situation. He says journalists have learned by experience not to expect justice when media workers are targeted.

Valdez was a local crime reporter in Mexico's troubled Sinaloa state who worked for Agence France-Presse. He was shot dead in the street on May 15. (Hector Geurrero/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, he has seen newspapers give up reporting on gang violence and the ongoing drug war because it simply became too dangerous for their employees. 

In 2012, grenades were thrown at the offices of the El Manana daily newspaper in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Soon after the newspaper published an editorial that it would no longer report on violent crimes, like decapitations or bombings, occurring in their city.

Earlier this year, the news outlet Norte, which was based in Najera's hometown of Juarez, permanently cancelled its newspaper in response to the violence.

"This has deep roots in this political system," Najera says. "This isn't about changing the government. This is about changing a culture."

As for why reporters stick around in such a risky environment, Najera says they stay because it is "the right thing to do."

"In my case, when I [was] watching how all this cancer of narco traffic was affecting my city, if I [had] the possibility do something — to fight — why not do it?" he says.

To hear Brent Bambury's full conversation with Luis Najera, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.