KPBS, in partnership with Tijuanapress.com, just got done talking about their reporting project,” Border Battles,” on this morning’s These Days episode. While I commend their reporting and the impressive interactive maps showing trends and locations of the recent Tijuana murders and violence, I can’t help but wonder; is this doing anyone any good?
Back when I worked at the local NBC affiliate, they informed me of a policy that said we were not to cover any murders or violence that could possibly be the work of gangs. They said that when gang’s fight amongst each other, they often use the media as a tool to send messages to other gangs. At one point, gangs even used the media for initiation practices (to be in a gang, you had to get your act of violence on the 5 O’clock news).
I had qualms with the policy because it seemed to me that almost any murder involving Blacks or Mexicans got ignored, due to a slight chance it might be gang related. Basically, the policy is racist and results in media only reporting on deaths involving white folks.
But I can’t help but think of this policy when listening to reporters like Amy Isackson, KPBS’s border reporter, describe the dead bodies, decapitated, with their pants down.
That’s a message one cartel is trying to send to another, and media are broadcasting that message and playing right into the hands of the cartel.
The wider effect the media’s coverage is having on the city is broadcasting fear to the people of Tijuana, getting us to stay indoors and out of the way of the cartel. It’s also turning us into paranoid psychos. Tourism, too, is down because of the violence, but it’s dropped to a ridiculous all-time low because that violence is being broadcast across the world.
I am a journalist, so I’m playing the part of the devil’s advocate a bit because I do think knowledge is power and knowing is ultimately much better than not knowing, but when cartel members do things like cut off tongues and heads and put bodies in barrels, they’re partly doing these things because they know their acts will be reported and delivered directly to their enemies, who will then retaliate in the same way or worse.
I don’t want reporters to stop reporting on the violence, I guess I’m just asking them to be careful and responsible. If five dead bodies of known cartel members are found, don’t waste an entire 500-word article or 15-second piece on it. Just tell us where, when, how many and move on. Yes, it’ll be less interesting and sexy and it won’t sell as many papers or garner as many listeners, but it will tell people exactly what they need to know without broadcasting the messages cartel members are sending. If innocents are killed, spend more time on that story. Tell us how and why it happened and how we who live in Tijuana can possibly avoid it ourselves.
Another question my boyfriend and I have is this: How many innocents have been killed in the drug war? The question was asked at the end of the episode and the Tijuana Press editor said at least nine, but probably more like 15. But he then went on to say that many of them have been family of cartel members, which, yes, technically, they’re innocent and it’s extremely sad an unfortunate, but it doesn’t help me or possible Tijuana tourists decide whether the violence is too dangerous to walk the Tijuana streets since those killings are obviously intentional and targeted.
I’m just frustrated. I think we all are.