MONTERREY, Mexico – MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — At least 22 Mexican journalists have been killed over the past four years, according to a U.S.-based media watchdog group that is calling on the government to respond forcefully to the dangers facing reporters who cover the country's drug war.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report released Wednesday that at least seven other journalists have gone missing and more have fled the country since President Felipe Calderon took office December 2006 and intensified the crackdown on drug trafficking by deploying thousands of troops and federal police to cartel strongholds.
Gang violence has since surged, claiming more than 28,000 lives as the splintered cartels fight with each other and stage increasingly bold attacks on security forces, government officials — and journalists.
"Violence against the press has swept the nation and destroyed Mexicans' right to freedom of expression," the report said. "This national crisis demands a full-scale federal response."
The New York-based CPJ said the attacks — and the state's failure to resolve many of them — have prompted many Mexican news outlets to stop reporting on crime and corruption, while others have abandoned investigative reporting.
Over the past decade, less than 10 percent of crimes against the news media have been successfully prosecuted, the report said.
The CPJ said it believes at least eight of the 22 journalists killed were targeted because of their reports on crime and corruption.
The organization highlighted the case of Bladimir Antuna Garcia, a top crime reporter in the northern state of Durango, who was tortured and strangled in November. A note left with his body read: "This happened to me for giving information to the military and for writing too much."
Antuna Garcia had told authorities he was receiving threats but no action was taken, the report said. His death remains unsolved.
Journalists told the CPJ that "because the killers have gone unpunished ... in-depth crime reporting has essentially stopped in Durango," the report said.
The committee called on Calderon to make attacks against the news media a federal crime, create a government committee to protect threatened journalists, and give more autonomy to Mexico's federal special prosecutor for crimes against reporters.
There was no immediate comment from the government on the report, which comes a month after investigators from the United Nations and the Organization of American States visited Mexico to look into attacks on journalists. The investigators also called on Mexican authorities to establish a way to protect reporters.
Calderon has previously acknowledged the widespread dangers facing journalists, as well as the inadequacies of Mexico's justice system. Last month, he met with the owners and directors of Mexico's main newspapers and radio and television stations, offering federal support for journalists who have been threatened.
Apart from attacks on individual journalists, cartel gunmen struck at television stations and newspaper offices with gunfire, grenades and bombs.
Two weeks ago, a car exploded in front of the offices of the Televisa station in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the northern state of Tamaulipas, which has become one of Mexico's most dangerous regions amid a turf war between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas gang.
In the border city of Reynosa, also in Tamaulipas, journalists told the committee they believe the Gulf Cartel controls nearly every aspect of the local government, from law enforcement down to street vendor permits, the report said.
"That story has not been reported in the local news media, however, because the cartel also controls the press," it said.
Reynosa journalists told the committee some of their colleagues have been corrupted by the cartel and take payoffs to slant or withhold coverage. Three local journalists disappeared in March, it added.
"The more Mexico allows the news to be controlled by criminals, the more it erodes its status as a reliable global partner," the committee said.