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Feb. 11, 2013, 1:13 p.m.
Marcela Turati in Aida Refugee Camp

“In the struggle against silence, human life is at stake”: Mexican journalist Marcela Turati on reporting during the drug war

The winner of the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism talks about how the perils faced by Mexican journalists caught between the government and the narcos.

Marcela Turati in Aida Refugee Camp

Since 1964, the Nieman Fellows have awarded the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. Lyons was a member of the first class of Nieman Fellows in 1937 and was the curator of the Nieman Foundation from 1938 to 1964. This year’s class chose to award the Lyons to Mexican journalist Marcela Turati of the magazine Proceso.

for her coverage of the drug war and her role in protecting and training members of the media. She is a standard-bearer for the journalists who have risked their lives to document the devastating wave of violence in Mexico [...] Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with more than four dozen killed or gone missing in the past six years. Turati has long sought to give voice to those who lack political power and access to the media. In 2007, she and her colleagues co-founded Periodistas de a Pie, a journalism network created to support reporters covering issues such as poverty, civic participation and human rights.

Turati came to Cambridge Thursday to accept the award and talk about the dispiriting conditions faced by journalists covering drug violence in Mexico.

Many people are no longer with us. While I can come here and talk to you, many reporters covering similar stories have not survived or cannot talk about it. In this black period, 80 colleagues are dead or disappeared. Many more left the profession, their house, the country.

Among of the dead is Regina Martínez, who was a brave correspondent for Proceso magazine, the magazine that I work for. She worked in Veracruz, one of the states that was soon silenced by drug traffickers in complicity with the politicians. Forced silence is generally a consequence of this formula: army or cartels that control the information, corrupt or weak governments that surrender to them, and a judicial system that doesn’t work.

We soon realized that something was rotten in the country when the reporters who were supposed to file the news became themselves the news; when saying that (after Iraq), Mexico was the most dangerous place for journalists in the world became commonplace, and nobody cared.

Those deaths were registered in small news stories, like these, that I collected from the newspapers: The journalist was kidnapped in the morning by five unknown men just in front of the municipal police department…His eight year-old daughter watched the execution. He was killed when he was taking her to school…Three months before his murder, his house had been shot and his car burned…He was taken by eight masked men dressed in black, from his home, in front of his wife and daughters…By the corpse a message was found: “This happened to me for writing what I shouldn’t. Be careful with your text when you write the news.”

Here’s video of her engrossing speech:

You can also read a transcript of her remarks here, and you’ll find further video from the evening (including an introduction and Q&A) here.

As an aside — since the Lyons Award honors both its recipient and its namesake — here’s rarely seen video of Louis Lyons himself from the late 1950s, when he hosted a TV show called The Press and the People on public television pioneer WGBH. Aside from being a remarkable window into how early television experimented with the visual representation of an interview show, it’s a sign of how many of the issues we talk today about are ageless. (If the video won’t play for you, try here. Lots more here.)

Photo of Turati in the Aida refugee camp in Palestine by Ricardo Rodriguez.

POSTED     Feb. 11, 2013, 1:13 p.m.
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