Navigating newsgathering in the deadliest country for journalists | Global Journalism Seminar with Marcela Turati
12:30PM Feb 8, 2023
Welcome to the Global journalism seminars. This is the briefing to 11 journalists were killed in Mexico making it the deadliest country in the world to report the news from. It was a deadly sin record from Mexican journalists, who accounted for 20% of 57. Reporters killed an 18.8% increase in 2020. Haiti Nicaragua and Brazil are among the riskiest countries for investigating issues relating to organized crime, gangs and corruption. Poor gutting of a journalist fellows desk if they had ever been physically threatened in the line of work 54% said they have 77% of them threatened or harassed online. In this seminar, we'll be talking to myself to rattie Munoz about lessons and resilience from a home state Mexico. That's the briefing. Let's begin.
Well, hello and a very, very warm welcome to everyone who's joining for this global journalism Seminar Series. I'm Natalia Mukherjee. I'm Director of Programs at Reuters and today we're discussing the use of violence to silence journalists, and the impact of that kind of violent action on reporting the impact on journalists to cover it, and perhaps how to prepare yourself for that kind of environment. Very, very happy to welcome and introduce a pioneer in this field, Marcela, Turati. Munoz. She is an award winning investigative journalist. She is the author and co founder of the Mexican investigative journalism, nonprofit organization called Quinto elemento labs, and our website is well called where to disappear Co. Marcela has of course been renowned for all her investigative work into missing people and forced disappearances, massacres of migrants, mass graves, not the ordinary end of journalism, you would say and perhaps the very, very difficult impact of a self of reporting on all this. Myself. First and foremost, thank you for joining in and a very warm welcome to you from all of us here at Reuters. You know what one gets the sense of how it's a difficult terrain, but perhaps one doesn't understand it in its entirety. Let me start by asking you to walk our audience through what the landscape for journalists in Mexico looks like. At this point.
Yes, first of all, thanks for the invitation. Good day to all the colleagues who are present, gotten this interview and the landscape in Mexico is like really difficult. We have last year I think one of the worst years for journalists because we had, like 12 journalists disappear. Now sorry, 12 journalists killed and we have a lot of emergencies all the year because every year every moment, we have these calls of colleagues is telling us telling that they are on risk at the same time with the COVID is a pandemic. Many newsrooms close and this they just close or others they cut the salaries of the journalist who works there. And at the same time, we have like a government, federal government. That is really big bullying all the time to the press and accusing accusing the press to be like the enemy of the people and the enemy of the transformation of this government. That because the critics and all the investigation so this has been like really difficult period and difficult moment for for the Mexican press.
Absolutely. And of course, there are multiple points of threat but let's you know, sort of dwell on the political climate for a little bit Marcella. How much did that changed the environment for journalists? Is it a far more overt situation or state pushback right now? How has it been?
Okay, it always the since 2006 We have in Mexico, what we call the war on drugs that the president declared against the drug cartels. That was the beginning. In all the country for that this violence that we have been living since then we have now more than 15 years with this kind of violence. So we have for once, also the drug cartels violence and in the other side, we have now since 2018, with this new government, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, A, we he he has a program daily to communicate to the people what he thinks about life, the news in the government, so it is a TV program daily weekdays, and he has a section every Wednesday to show who are the liars, he said, Who Who are the journalists who lie and so he chose and he exceeded every everything that he didn't like he doesn't like so there is a big problem because all the time is like accusing the press to be enemies and I think in in his followers, this has been like it has had impact on on the environment now, but at the same time, we have all the other types of crime, the organized crime, and even the people in the government who are mejores, or sometimes police who are killing journalist. So this is not helping for the democracy.
Yes. And to be clear, Marcella, this is not this televised address is not a press conference. It's an address where there's only one person speaking and I imagine the liars are journalists who are perhaps critical of the establishment or critical of anything the establishment might have done.
Yes. The criticals and also there is a new kind of journalists who appear on these conferences, so it's a conferences and to do to play the opposite, opposite role that is claiming and I don't know, bracing him and telling him that these he he's the hero, also speaking against the journalists who do their jobs, so who do their work so it's, it's really difficult but in the past governments we have other kind of threatens against journalists. We have big hassles, then the spyware. In the past, the last government use big houses to spy on many cell phones of journalists and it was we discover it, like in 2017 that many journalists who were investigating the President doing another kind of investigations. They, they spy on them and now we know that some journalists who now are on exile it outside Mexico, they were threatened by this security minister, Minister that now is on trial. In United States. So it's like, because he's he worked with the drug cartels. So it's really it has been a really dark moment or for the Mexican press since the last years
and one of those Pegasus victims, was you yourself, Marcella. And you know, I'll come to that in a little bit. But comments from you in other interviews that really struck me one, the point that you just made where you said that the violence emanates not just from the cartels, everyone is involved criminal groups. Authorities, security forces. And then it's a parade of dark actors almost. And the second point that you made in another conversation where you said it's not it's not a war situation, but it is a war like situation for journalists almost on a permanent basis. Would you say from the years that you have been a journalist? This is perhaps the lowest point for journalists across Mexico and the pushback that they're facing?
Yes. Before I was like, a normal journalist, I cover poverty. No, I I go to take deaths I publish about conferences, press conferences in Mexico City. Publishing about indigenous movement and health care, things like that. Since 2008, my life change with this war on drugs. And I started covering massacres. I have to organize with another colleagues what we call periodistas. They appear journalist on foot or grassroots journalist to provide some kind of support to journalists who were on risk to train journalists or ask to the Colombian journalists or to the United Nations or to provide us some training to cover these because we didn't know how we how we have to what we have to do. And in all these years, I have been covering what we call the victims of violence. That has been my my role since 2008. The victims of violence, interviewing everything. We have this cover. Good that the half of the threatens as journalists come from the same authorities. Now, the authorities are the the ones who threat sometimes more than organized crime. Or they this is like a corruption I they work together. And it threatens against journalists come from the authority. So this is like really difficult to the chair digest to think and also in all these years, it has been a high impact emotional and psychological I think impact because covering this so many years, it it it has it has an impact and effect I think in the life of many of us, journalists who cover these on declare war. So that the situation
it does and it is incredibly brave of you to carry on through with this and it's come with collateral damage, hasn't it? micellar. I mean, for one, the Pegasus investigation revealed that use was one of the phones being tapped. And I think two years back, there was another revelation that the state itself was tracking you with some kind of geo tracking devices and two or three other people and almost came up with this investigation and this allegation that you somehow involved
is I always thought that when people ask me like oh are you on race? Can I always answer no, I cover victims of violence. I don't cover drug cartels. So the people or the my colleagues who are covering corruption, or the drug cartels. I always told that they were in danger. You're always but what I understood is that covering big themes and being with the parents or with children disappear who are looking for mass rapes and going to the morgue to see if they if there is song or is there that they are excavating in different parts of Mexico is searching this mask rapes. This is really dangerous cover cover this because the government want always to invisible allies. And to hide this stuff, so many victims and so many dead bodies in Mexico, so for my investigations in I was investigating in the north, close to Texas, a mask array with more than 200 bodies bodies. And I was I discovered that the government has the identifications have identified some of these some of these carps and they didn't say or call to the family to inform them that they were that their sons, their children were in these mass rapes. So publishing that was for the government was the they say that I bought by a buyer violate like secrecy laws. And I am on their investigation, and they invented that I am in a group of organized crime. And they they put me open a file against me against forensic anthropology against law low here that we were investigating these mass rapes. So with this excuse, they could crack our cellular phones they could no check out all our calls and know where I was, who were, who were, who my sources were. And I know they ask information that you really personnel really private information about me. And that same year. I also has Pegasus or I am on the list of Pegasus is by journalist and I was investigating the 43 student disappear is another case. So now I know. And I am still in this investigation under this investigation. Now I know that covering big teams investigating about the big teams are the parents the information that the parents of the disappear people provide is really dangerous for the government. So that's why I'm paying these consequences.
Let's talk for a little bit about Quinto elemental lab something that you created because the phenomenon of disappearances is perhaps something that has echoes across South Asia for journalists. There, it certainly has echoes across the African continent where disappearances happen fairly frequently. What do you think has been the most important role that Quinto has played and how do you think journalists could actually look at this model and look to bring something like that within their own communities?
Before Kindle elemental I found that released as they appear, this kind of grassroots to Protect Journalists and to give training in all Mexico, to some collectives of journalists to about Yes, about how to stay safe. No. And then they some of these groups create their own own collectives. To protect other journalists. And then in 2016, I co founded with another colleagues, Kindler mental lab. We were thinking and we noticed that many journalists is stopped doing investigations and that we have many, many things against us to investigate lack of money. We don't have editors. The quality is not always good or do you don't have enough context to publish your investigation in, in important media's magazine or TV? So we come together we were for journalists and we told that we could create these lab to investigate ourself, what we think is important for the public to know and also help journalists from the difficult places this site silence regions to to investigate. So we help this is one of we kind of we come accompany the journalists to do the their investigations and at the same time, we Yes, we help. Also if they need for example, FOIA or transparency, there's more skills. We have somebody who can help them or databases or so we use I don't know we use our own talents, a skills to put together with this journalist. We in my in my field we have. We have investigate, for example, we create the first National Mosque rapes map in Mexico. The government didn't have we, we we created the 2000 clandestine mass rapes found in Mexico. We also did the first register of only identify but corpse who are include that the government hub we have the first database of 330 9000. This corpse that the government have in the marks, we have a investigate about the disappear who are alive who are slaves. The by by the drug cartels, and I don't know we always are thinking what we can do new that is important for the for the people to know and for the my case for the relatives of these missing people, what information they need. So for that investigations we have that those investigations have been really, really important. Also, we have one of how Mexico became we have 100,000 people disappear now. We we could like make create our interactive map to see where are disappearing. The age, sex, the gender and different different light layers that you can check about this.
United start figure right you see 100,000 missing?
Yes. 100,000 now is one candidate with 10,000. People missing since from 2006. Now,
you also wrote what I think is an incredibly sort of nuanced piece about how to interview victims of tragedy witnesses survivors. For those of you interested I would encourage you to look for it online. And you've detailed many points they Marcella but for our journalist community and for those listening, you know, walk us through what you keep in mind when you're having these extremely difficult and extremely fragile. Conversations.
The first thing that I always suggest and I try to practice is that understand or think Imagine that you are the other you are the one who are you're investigating interviewing sorry, for example, that maybe this man that you have to interview is your uncle. Or by the no this this girl, it is your niece and so you have to play so put in their in their shoes. Now, think how you will ask or how you will formulate questions. If these people were relatives do relatives know so you have to have the same sense of sensitivity as you have with your and the same care as you have with your family. No. That is one of the things and also you don't have to read victimize these people with your question are with your publication. And the other thing that is really really important and most in Mexico and places like Mexico, is that you have to think and also you have to advise or talk with the people and think if this is dangerous for them. And if it is dangerous, maybe you don't have to publish. You have to say to look and other paths and other ways. Even if you have the interview done if this will be do have to ask yourself and explain to the people what danger they will face. If you polish. Maybe it's a auto sub boycott of your own work, but you are responsible of the safety of the people and even have your own safety. So this is like a filter, the safety there you have a care. Do everything you have to care about these people.
Let me ask you a more difficult question. Perhaps masala, you know some of what comes up from our fellows in conversations about violence against journalists is that it's sort of feeding off from the community itself. And sometimes when things reach a tipping point, it almost normalizes what should not be normalized. You know, what's your sense of how the broader population in your country is perceiving all this? There's sort of this glamorization of drug cartels with the soap operas and the TV series. There are intensely violent videos now amongst the drug cartels beheading cannibalization? You know, it's really sort of taking it to break point. What is your sense of how the broader polity views the importance of what journalists like you are doing?
And then sorry, the last question is it got
you think the broader population is supporting journalists like you? Are they supporting journalists like you enough?
No, it's really sad. I don't know man. I have five of the journalists who are killed. I think I met or there were my friends. And every every year we have we are protesting and we are no organizing memorials. Or organizing. Manifestations for journalists, the new journalists kill. We noticed that we are always alone. We are only journalists and few journalists protesting or commemorating even sometimes they are the owners of the media companies. They are not present even in the burials even in the funerals. They are not present and we are always like thinking what happened. So I think that people normalize that the journalist more most killed must be killed or either no there's there are many, many people are dying now are dying and I think the people think the normal the common people think that okay, many people are dying, they're dying German police. Politicians are killed. Different law different bit lawyers. Sometimes lawyers, so it's normal that journalists are killed also in this war. And that is a problem the normalization and we always try to speak to to explain to the people that killing journalists, A is really bad sign up for everybody because you are killing the people who are giving you the information to survive. They're giving you the information about the cartels about the corruption. So silencing journalists yours, the whole region. If you keep a journal, the whole region will be silence and nobody will speak and you will lose the news. About what is happening in your community. But he's, I don't know I think that the people we have many years on this that our message I don't know it's not the our message it seems that because not the signatory. Then we are the same, still the same people, but now we are trying to change and to maybe don't, don't ask the people support us. Maybe it's better. We are thinking is better. Explain what we do. Why? What are journalists do? What is critic journalists? Why this is important for normal life for the life of all the people for Mexico. So we have to change our strategies might be more be closer to the community. Explain. Yes. What is our role in this?
Final question from me before I open up to the broad audience and questions Marcella, it's almost it's almost a load times two for you, you know, what is the threat that you face from violent aggression either from the state or from some of these cartels or indeed other parties? And the second is the very real load of the work that you're documenting mass values, missing people. It's easy for me to ask how do you protect your mental health but it's an important question, how do you do that and how do you provide emotional support for your family and your well wishers who are perhaps rightly so very concerned for you?
Daddy, that is a huge question. And I think I had a moment of burnout and some years ago I could not read Listen, news or interview people. I could not finish any article. I was really blocked out really bad. Angry. I don't know whether emotional explosions Later I understood that they have these PTSD symptoms. What I have been done is creating communities No, like communities of journalists to support one to each other. We now also we teach about digital security about physical security and we also incorporate the psycho emotional security safety and some tips. So, with my groups or the teams that I am leading in investigating something, we sometimes we do require therapy as a as our this is our requirement. And therapy in group for the most difficult investigations, spaces where we can talk what we are feeling and also we have many trainings about this and this is important. I, I create like a workshop that is called how to interview victims or how to cover the grief and what to do with my own grief. Now, this is the second part of this workshop. And it's about how to recognize when something is bad. And change sometimes change topics, same change routines. Also think that you must take care of yourself because this is a political decision because you want to survive this and you want to be many years covering this so you have to be fine. You have to take care of yourself. You have to be sustainable. And so it's changing routines is also sometimes spiritual rights. We also sometimes in our workshops, we do things like is is purely to alter or which change Chairman's or one day with a priest or with people with meditation and that to to explore what we do if we have some fears if we have some things that we do we feel that the we did wrong everything and work with this. But also I know say I am sorry. I did this but I can continue doing journalist because working with victims, will you always feeling bad that you maybe somebody was crying What you interview or that maybe you put somebody on risk? So you have to constantly to explore what you did, but you can get paralyzed feeling, blaming yourself that you did something wrong. So we're now we try to work with these emotions to continue to to forgive yourself and to ask forgiveness to the people that maybe you did something, but continue being journalists. So now the emotional or these checklists, emotional on all these practices are really important, but I really think that working together in a community is really important, not alone. A good community of journalists who understand do with do can be better and you can, you can trust pass all these kinds of impacts.
That's an incredibly brave and vulnerable answer and an honest answer. Thank you for sharing that. I'm going to open up the conversation now to our fellows who are at Reuters Institute in Oxford. My first two respondents just to introduce them to you Marcela, Radheshyam Giada, from India, and reaching Kobato from the Philippines, both of whom have lived experiences similar to yours. Now the sham has documented farmer suicides across a large part of India, western India, and regime has written quite extensively on the troll farms in the Philippines because of which CPE herself was the target of a lot of that pushback and hate Russia. Shall we start with you?
Yeah, sure. Thanks. Thanks for having so talk about sexual and gender based violence. And because I'm working on climate change, I will try to relate this to the climate change and sexual and gender based violence. The way female bodies are incorporated in labor changes with climate change. I'll give an example. So I come from the region where parts of my state is spent in droughts, and in last few years, they are unseasonal showers. So with no option left, people migrate, people migrate to the Sugar Bowl. of India. And there are over 1 million people who migrate every year. It's a seasonal migration, and half of them are women. So when they migrate to sugar out of India for sugarcane cutting, the amount of violence and exploitation the feast has multiplied. So given an example we can we can Korea in last few years, number of child marriages have multiplied and why this is happening because when a sugar contractor signs a contract with labor, he signs the contract as a unit so you need husband and wife to sign the contract. So once you are married, you and your wife are one unit, and then you might get for sugar daddy. After I'm done with using the word producing after producing number of sons, then these men are asked to go for hysterectomy surgeries. And why is strictly surgeries because then you don't have menstrual cycles, because menstrual cycles create hurdle in work because you have to take huge amount of sugarcane on your head and load it into trolleys. So once you produce children will find straightaway surgeries and then your body is incorporated in to a label it converted into a machine of a kindness. And what I'm telling you is just a tip of iceberg. There are many other exploitations this woman with sugar cane cutters are facing. So there are two kinds of reaction when you report this this a clear denial of this kind isn't happening. And the second is of course, you face pressure from your community, as Marcela said is low. But support from your community from journalists community. And also there is no support from a political system. So because political system, we definitely want to hide this because these women don't have any reporting mechanism. What is happening to them what is happening to their children. So this is something which I wanted to share.
Thank you, Dr. Sham, shall we move to regime
Hello, thank you so much for sharing where it's at. I think both of us in Mexico will have a lot in common. Our countries are never too far from each other on the list of Deadliest countries for during this. We also shared a lot I think in terms of prime issues of culture in the background, and most recently, the foreign drugs so that's also been quite a shock for journalists in the Philippines to cover. I have been on the receiving end of a few harassment campaigns in the past couple of government administrations, and they wanted to ask you about your own neck Mexican journalists own experiences of online harassment. Specifically, the question that I have is what the relationship between online and offline violence is when it's something likely to cross over in the Philippines for example, but usually, once activist or offensive journalists or even people in the civil sector are accused of being communists online sometimes it will carry over into real life violence. So I'm wondering how it is in your context, or killings for journalists, usually preceded by threats. And if I could throw in a quick second question. Since you mentioned that the drug war in Mexico started in 2006. RS was in 2016. So it's been thin. It's been like then who says and obviously the this kind of policy and the violence it creates the culture of violence it creates, because you're gonna be happy. It's not unprecedented for us. So coming from the context of Mexico, what warning ideas would you have for a country like the Philippines, which is faced which has faced this for just one presidential term, but where the damage to the cultural psyche is likely to carry on for for several 40 years? What would you advise to us journalists?
Yes, first, yes, I think Philippines is like really similar to Mexico and is different because the government is doing these extrajudicial executions. No. And these were reflected really evident the government there now the index executions, the first question about the online harassment and the offline. In the dynamic week, I think there were the years that we are the journalists, many journalists receive more and more threads in, in social network, but since before we see sometimes, we can notice that there are some threads in the online that they have a lot of information of, you know, like, sometimes you can perceive that there is people that is not only insulting you, telling whatever they think, but they have information about you. And so, in those cases, it it can be that they are spying or they have they are really investigating you and you have to be aware, because the language or sometimes they elaborate better the these threats I remember that one one friend She's she's she's in data analyzing data always and social network she received some threats, but really well elaborated they were they were telling her that they will burn hair and the picture they put some pictures of like
flesh in an oven, now that fast parts of the carp in in an oven or every everything burning that we were really feeling that it was that this trespass the the harassment, normal harassment. So you have to see because the online harassment the people can thread thread you and insult you. Because they are in their their anonymity and they can do it really easy and low cost. But when they when you know that they this is not easy the picture or what they are telling you about yourself is more accurate about what to do or where do you live? Yes, you have to you have to think that this can be another kind of, of harassment and that you have to be worried and you have to protect yourself and what warning or what advice I can give you to fail it Philippines, the press and journalist I don't know I always my advice is always work together. Is not time to work alone is not the time to work by yourself. If you're looking for the scoop. You have to create networks. It's like it's another kind of job. Maybe it's a you have to invest many hours of your life organizing the community of journalists, but you have to protect all together. You have to protect your colleagues learn how to do it well. How to investigate better how to prove what the government is doing, and also explaining to the community why it is important that you do this why is important that you rebel reveal that the government is doing this and why it is wrong. Now, why the people must understand that if they are doing with somebody and the government always talk about the collateral damage of the drug war, drug war. You have to explain to people that this that it can be do know that without roles rules, with all these impunity, everybody is on risk now but yes, that is my advice like create your networks and create your your own collective of colleagues and learn how to protect yourself and learn other things to do it better and to protect in community the most important or the what is most effective is a community protection. So you have to you have to build this protection.
I think there were a couple of questions online both about violence against women and the importance of community building and I think masalas answers have sort of addressed some of that. Let me go back to your room and request Bronson chan to present his question.
So sorry, talking about how massive journalists were killed in Mexico. Just wanted to know that. Why the journalists so easy to be talking by the killers because well do some investigative report all we do so we can maybe have some method to hide our identity. I will be funny when the report launched we may have a some anomalous report on it. So I'm just want to know why why they can easy to target the journalists.
I think we lost your audio there for a second. So Marcella just to you know, place Ron's question in brief Why is it so easy to identify these journalists and is it better for them not to go by a byline in order to protect themselves? How come they get targeted so fast?
guys to see sometimes even journalists who didn't sign they are okay. What we have done in Mexico because we learn from Colombia and journalists is like many times you don't sign or you don't Yes, you don't sign your article, you maintain their anonymity. Sometimes we create, we publish together the same information, many media at the same time. Sometimes we give to foreign correspondents the information because they can publish it. And so if they publish in American newspaper, so we can say that New York time, who is that? That maybe it's your information, but you have to this is like a way to protect ourselves. We always try to or not always we will try to collaborate or to do it in investigations with many media. But it's not easy for journalists who live in small towns where everybody knows who is the journalist there. Now, even if you don't sign the people tell you that you do provide this information, even if sometimes the journalist didn't do or they didn't give information, but the drug cartels are the police think and suppose that it was the local journalist and I don't know that journalists are killed. Many of them when they are on their homes, in their houses are in front of the family or outside the family or in the newsroom or in the street in their daily routine. This, the journalists have been killed. So you cannot protect we have a mechanism to protect journalists. And so you can call the government now and say I am on risk. And these mechanisms have to help you sometimes they give you panic but those take gives you bodyguards, but it's not normal that they gave you a bodyguard. But many times when they are analyzing if you are on risk or now they can be killed, or even with bodyguards. You can be killed or even with panic button, not not always is working, or I don't know the so it's like really, really difficult. And many journalists even if they are under threat, they can because it makes it so normal to be under threat is normal normal. Is is not on this. So do get used to live under threat so you never know. For what of all during formation. Or what what your many articles where you receive the threat for example. So I think we normalize living on fear, and we feel that this will get us and that is a really, really problem that we ask. We have been many many years on the threads. So you never know. We what or which one of these threads will be the the one that is that will kill you. That has happened. We in 2017 Two of the most important investigative journalists were killed Javier Valdez in Sinhala meters leverage into our and I think they live on their threat so many years that they could not recognize when those were serious. That thread. For example, for that reason, I think that they're emotional. be in contact with your emotions and don't. Don't shoot after your own fear. is important. Because the fear is telling you that you have to do something. Sometimes you think is it paranoid, or is this true? It's not. You have to be in contact with your fear. You don't have to block it. Because your fear can save your life. And it's important to YES to have contact with this and with your colleagues. That can sometimes not be something that you are not seeing because you are always on there this kind of stress and always in this environment that you can not difference. The difference of these kinds of threats. No.
So what a dangerous and terrifying word. This has become my setup for journalists normal. I think that word does our community more harm. than any other way you continue to push the line so far back, that you don't realize where it is that you've gotten to we are completely out of time. But me i On behalf of all of us at Reuters community express my gratitude for the time you've taken and really the honesty with which you've answered all our questions. Thank you very, very much. Please power on with your work and I hope that there's an international community of journalists listening, and they certainly support the work that you do. Thank you, Marcela.
Thank you to you for this invitation. And I hope that you have a really good time in this experience that you are leaving now in the Reuters Institute.
Thank you, indeed. And for everyone who's joined in. Thanks again for tuning in. We'll be back next week with another seminar and another important phase from the world. Epi