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World

Journalism Is Deadly In Mexico

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Mexico is one of the deadliest countries in which to be a reporter. Twelve Mexican journalists were killed last year; six so far in 2017. Javier Valdez was murdered this week, and he was one of the founders of Riodoce, a weekly that reported on crime and corruption in Sinaloa, a state that is beset by drug trafficking and violence. Javier Valdez received the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2011. We are joined now by Javier Garza, who's a journalist who now advises other journalists on security. And he joins us on the line from Torreon, Mexico.

Mr. Garza, thanks so much for being with us.

JAVIER GARZA: Thank you, Scott. My pleasure.

SIMON: You knew Javier Valdez. Do you know if he thought he was in danger?

GARZA: He knew he was in danger. He was very well aware of the risks, and he worked more than other journalists to try to provide for his own protection, you know, following some basic protocols for his own personal safety. But, you know, in a place where rule of law is very weak, as in Mexico, whatever precautions that you can individually take are only going to get you so far.

SIMON: What was he reporting on at the time he died?

GARZA: In general terms, the drug cartels - narco trafficking, corruption in the state of Sinaloa. And corruption in the state of Sinaloa means, very often, collusion between government officials and drug cartel bosses. And even if we don't know exactly what is it that got him killed, what specific story or piece of information that he published, we know that his work has to be the first stop for anyone investigating the crime.

And this could sound obvious, and this could sound like a no-brainer. But the reality in Mexico is that whenever a journalist is killed, investigators - their first reaction is to always try to find a motive that is not related to journalistic work. So they find any other motive - economic motive or maybe a passion motive, anything except journalistic work because they don't want to admit that they have a problem of press freedom in their hands. But I think in this case it is really obvious why Javier Valdez was killed.

SIMON: Yeah. This is going to sound naive. But why do you think it's important to do stories like that? I mean, drug cartels - people often prefer just to look the other way - don't they?

GARZA: Well, yes. But if you don't report on them, then nobody else will. And it is not just the stories about the drug cartels. It is the stories about the consequences that they are unleashing in Mexican public life in every level. I live in a city that, for years, was the turf in a turf war between two drug cartels. And the effects of the violence that they unleashed was devastating for the city because investment never came in. Jobs were not created. Nightlife shut down. People stopped going out on the street. We all started to distrust from one another. Neighborhoods began putting up gates and fences, and so it was really disruptive.

SIMON: Your newspaper was attacked, wasn't it?

GARZA: I was the editor of a newspaper, yes, El Siglo de Torreon, that was attacked five times by armed groups.

SIMON: Is the government doing what it can, in your judgment, to try and protect journalism?

GARZA: No. I mean, they're far from that. We have been warning for years that governments have not been adequately giving guarantees for freedom of expression. And the institutions that have been created in the past decade to address this problem are simply not working. This is a problem of rule of law. And the culture of a rule of law is something that you - that takes longer to build than just simply setting up a new office, putting a guy in charge and giving him some money, you know. That doesn't necessarily solve the problem.

SIMON: How would you like Javier Valdez to be remembered?

GARZA: I think I'd like him to be remembered as a good man and as a great journalist. I do think that the best way to honor him is to keep on this struggle, not just seek out justice for his murder but for everyone's. And I know that if it had been somebody else, Javier would have been in the frontlines with us.

SIMON: Javier Garza is a journalist and an expert in security for journalists.

Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

GARZA: Thank you, Scott. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.