But a scathing new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists described the violence with a pointed word: preventable.
The committee said government indifference and rampant corruption have contributed strongly to the attacks on journalists.
“Endemic impunity allows criminal gangs, corrupt officials, and cartels to silence their critics,” the CPJ said in its report, released Wednesday, which was World Press Freedom Day. “Despite federal government efforts to combat this deadly cycle, justice remains elusive, and impunity the norm.”
According to the CPJ, between 2006 and 2016, 21 journalists were killed in Mexico. The country ranks sixth on the organization's index of journalist killings that go unpunished.
“The messenger risks being a victim of the story he or she investigates, at times at the hands of government officials, police commanders, common criminals, and drug traffickers who go unpunished,” wrote Adela Navarro Bello, director of Tijuana-based Zeta magazine, which is under police protection after authorities learned that a cartel planned to attack its headquarters.
Carlos Lauría, the CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas, told The Washington Post that even when suspects are identified in journalist killings, the authorities rarely link the crimes back to cartels or their leaders.
“The criminal justice system is incapable of providing any answers for journalists and their families who are being killed with impunity,” he said. “The collusion between the government and organized crime, yes, it’s a fact that it’s blocking the possibility of investigators ever getting to the bottom of these cases.”
Citing the violence, the Mexican newspaper Norte in Ciudad Juárez announced last month that it was shutting down.
“On this day, esteemed reader, I address you to report that I have made the decision to close this newspaper due to the fact that, among other things, there are neither the guarantees nor the security to exercise critical, counterbalance journalism,” wrote Norte’s owner, Oscar A. Cantú Murguía.
In March, Norte journalist Miroslava Breach, 54, was fatally shot outside her home as she sat in her car with one of her three children. She had been reporting on killings assumed to be cartel-related, including attacks on police officers and gruesome beheadings.
Breach was the third Mexican journalist slain in a month. The gunmen left a note near her body on a rolled-up piece of cardboard with a chilling reason for the crime: “being a tattletale.”
In December 2015, The Washington Post's Dana Priest wrote about a call to a newspaper in Reynosa by an “enlace,” or a link to the cartels. The caller demanded that the newspaper retract a story about protection fees the city's mayor had paid to the cartel:
The enlaces are part of the deeply institutionalized system of cartel censorship imposed on media outlets in northeastern Mexico abutting the border of Texas. How it works is an open secret in newsrooms here but not among readers. They are unaware of the life-and-death decisions editors make every day not to anger different local cartel commanders, each of whom has his own media philosophy. . . . Pervasive corruption abets the violence.
Lauría told The Post that it's impossible for Mexicans to make an informed decision about their government or other issues if newspapers aren't protected and are afraid to print the truth.
“It's a full-blown freedom of expression crisis,” he said. “It’s clearly affecting the health of the Mexican democracy. There are entire communities across Mexico where the people are not really aware of what’s going on.”