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Journalists Risk Lives to Cover Mexico Drug Cartels

Pub Date: Dec 17, 2012

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Dec 17 – Dec 23, 2012 Edition Journalists Risk Lives to Cover Mexico Drug Cartels

Reportero follows veteran reporter Sergio Haro and his colleagues at Zeta, a Tijuana-based independent newsweekly, as they stubbornly ply their trade in one of the deadliest places in the world for members of the media. Forty-eight journalists disappeared or were murdered in Mexico from December 2006 to the close of 2011 during Felipe Calderón's presidency, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Will the country’s powerful drug cartels and organized crime silence a free press?

Bernardo Ruiz's Reportero has its national broadcast premiere on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 at 10 p.m. as a special broadcast during the 25th season of the award-winning PBS documentary series POV (Point of View). (Check local listings.) In addition, the film will stream on the POV website Jan. 8 – Feb. 6, 2013. Visit www.pbs.org/pov/reportero for embeddable video, photos, press releases and more.

Jesús Blancornelas and Héctor Félix Miranda founded Zeta in 1980 as an independent voice, different from Mexico's largely government-controlled media. At the time, reporting the truth about the country's leaders was unprecedented—and risky. To secure the fledgling paper’s survival, Blancornelas and Miranda located its printing operation over the border near San Diego, where it is still printed today. Zeta's uncompromising stand against corruption would bring it 30,000 readers—and anger from the country's leadership.

Miranda became one of Zeta's most popular columnists, writing humorously about the foibles of Mexico's politicians and social elite. On April 20, 1988, he was shot dead by thugs who worked for the son of one of Mexico's most powerful families. The dangers Zeta's staff would face were only beginning.

Although the government's hold on the media eventually loosened, drug trafficking became a major industry along the Mexico-U.S. border in the early 1990's. "As journalists, we couldn't ignore this real problem," says Zeta co-director Adela Navarro, and the paper began reporting on Mexico's drug cartels and the public officials secretly working for them. In 1997, Blancornelas was ambushed by 10 gunmen. He survived only because, in a moment of poetic justice, shrapnel from one gunman’s bullets ricocheted and killed the gang’s lead assassin. In 2005, reporter Francisco Ortiz became the second Zeta reporter to be killed.

In 2012, Zeta marked its 32nd year of publishing truth to very deadly power. "It’s easier to look the other way and not cover this issue,” says Haro, “but in the end you would become another accomplice."

The story of Zeta and its editorial team came to Mexican-born filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz accidentally. Planning a film on deported children in Mexicali, he scheduled a short meeting with Haro, and it stretched to several hours. "I understood that all of the narrative threads I had been chasing—immigration, corruption and the rise of narco power in Mexico—converged in Sergio's story," says Ruiz. He developed Reportero over the course of three years, meeting with Haro on dozens of occasions. "For me, Reportero is an act of remembrance. It is a wake for Sergio's colleagues, who have paid for their work with their blood. The film is an act of celebration, for Sergio Haro and his many colleagues, who stubbornly persist."

Reportero asks the question that serves as the title of the collection of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya's final dispatches before she was murdered in 2006: Is journalism worth dying for?

At least 60,000 people died of drug-related violence during Calderón’s six-year presidency, according to AP. Many put that number much higher (Mexican newsweekly Proceso published a death count above 88,000). In June 2012, after four newsrooms were targeted, the Mexican Congress passed a constitutional amendment giving the federal government jurisdiction over journalist murders, which previously were prosecuted by local authorities. On Dec. 1, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated as Mexico’s new president with the stated goal of reducing drug-related violence.

About Bernardo Ruiz
Reportero is Bernardo Ruiz's first documentary feature. He is currently serving as executive producer of two one-hour documentaries examining the nation's dropout crisis, as part of the public-media initiative American Graduate. Previously, he was director/producer of American Experience: Roberto Clemente (PBS 2008), winner of the NCLR ALMA Award for Outstanding Made-for-Television Documentary. He was co-producer of POV's The Sixth Section, about the transnational organizing efforts of a community of Mexican immigrants in New York. The film, which premiered on PBS in 2003, won the top short documentary prize at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico.

Ruiz is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in film, and his work has been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Sundance Documentary Institute, Cinereach and ITVS, among others. In 2007, he founded Quiet Pictures in order to produce aesthetically innovative and socially relevant documentary films for all platforms. He was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Reportero is a co-production of Quiet Pictures, ITVS and Latino Public Broadcasting, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

POV
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and now in its 25th season on PBS, the award-winning POV series is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. Airing June through October with primetime specials during the year, POV has brought more than 325 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide and has a Webby Award-winning online series, POV’s Borders. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today’s most pressing social issues. Visit www.pbs.org/pov.