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The Kansas City Star published the above photo from the funeral of an El Diario de Juarez photographer. The newspaper ran an editorial addressed to cartels following the photographer's death. (Credit: Guillermo Arias, Kansas City Star)

Tell us what we can report without being killed or left for dead.

That’s what a Mexican newspaper just asked of local drug cartels. Not just any newspaper, but the leading daily newspaper in Mexico.  The newspaper, El Diario de Juarez, asked in a front-page editorial Sept 19  for the “drug cartels warring … to say what they want from the newspaper, so it can continue its work without further death, injury, or intimation of its staff,”  The Associated Press reported.

“We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect,” the editorial says.

Seemingly turning over editorial reins to the cartel is a result of two of the newspaper’s journalists being killed in the past two years. CNN noted that “No newspaper in Juarez has ever published an editorial directly addressed to the cartels that are battling for the trafficking corridor in the city.”

The newspaper’s decision to curb reporting on drug trafficking is bad news. Other media outlets had already stopped covering the cartels, but El Diario had continued.

“Even in one of the places where violence is worst … El Diario was still doing a lot of good reporting on crime,” the Associated Press reported Carlos Lauria, a senior coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said. “The fact that they’re giving up is really bad. It’s an indication that the situation is out of control.”

The newspaper’s editorial called the cartels “at present, the de facto authorities in this city, because the legal institutions have not been able to keep our colleagues from dying.”

“We do not want more deaths.  We do not want more injuries or even more intimidation. It is impossible to exercise our role in these conditions. Tell us, then, what do you expect of us as a medium?

“This is not a surrender. Nor does it mean that we’ve given up the work we have been developing. Instead it is a respite to those who have imposed the force of its law in this city, provided they respect the lives of those who are dedicated to the craft of reporting.”

See El Diario’s editorial here or a Google Translate of the text here.

El Diario de Juarez is “The biggest newspaper in Mexico’s most violent city,” the AP noted. The Sept 19 editorial is the “second front-page editorial” since 21-year-old El Diario photographer Luis Carlos Santiago was killed and 18-year-old intern Carlos Manuel Sánchez was injured in an attack.

The two were”still wearing press badges and with their equipment handy,” El Paso Times reported.  The El Paso Times later reported that they “may not have been the intended target of the attack,” as they were driving the car of human rights activist Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson’s son.  CNN also reported that Santiago’s death hasn’t been attributed to the cartels by authorities and that the cartels have denied the attack through “‘narcopinta,’ or graffiti-written message left by the cartels.”

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“Many people think that Luis Carlos (Santiago) was my son,” the El Paso Times reported de la Rosa Hickerson said. “It is a likely theory that my son was targeted. I wish it were not true, but I hope police investigate in depth.”

CNN reported Sept 20 that Chihuahua state attorney’s office spokesman Carlos Gonzalez-Estrada said Santiago’s death was a result of a “personal problem,” not his journalism work.

As the Dallas News reported, Santiago is the second El Diario journalist killed in the past two years.

“In 2008, journalist Armando Rodríguez was killed in front of his home. The following year, a federal agent investigating his death was killed.”

Reporters without Borders ranks Mexico 137 out of 175 of countries with press freedom.  The non-profit organization further labels Mexico “the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous country for the media. Its drug cartels, combined with government ineffectiveness and corruption, are largely to blame.”

The Sinaloa, Gulf and Juárez cartels in Mexico were also listed on Reporters without Borders’ list of freedom predators this May.

See the Committee to Protect Journalists’ report on “silence or death in Mexico’s press” here.  The CPJ has confirmed the motive for 22 journalists killed for their work since 1994.  There have been at least 29 other journalists killed in Mexico since 1994, but it hasn’t been determined if they were killed for their work, the CPJ reports.  The counts do not include Santiago’s death.

Now the government steps in…

MSNBC reported today that Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, “announced a plan [Sept 22] to protect journalists in Mexico.”

“The plan includes an early warning system in which reporters would have immediate access to authorities when threatened, the creation of a council to identify the causes behind attacks on reporters, legal reforms, and a package of ‘best practices’n in journalism, according to a statement from Calderon’s office,” MSNBC explained.

UPDATE: 09/30/2010 11:24 AM EST:  See an update on this story in our media briefs here.

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Mexican Newspaper El Diario de Juarez to Limit Cartel Reporting after Journalist Killed

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