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Iguala Murders Present A Slight Opening For Mexican Border Media

Francisco Muñoz prepares to deliver a midday newscast. He says the violence against student teachers in Iguala has affected the media just as it has society at-large. (Lorne Matalon)

Outrage over the alleged alliance between police, politicians and organized crime in the murders of 43 college teaching students continues in Mexico.

In parts of Mexico, the killings appear to be translating into a slightly more robust media in a country where journalists often use self-censorship.

But any progress toward a more vibrant media must be seen through the prism of a reality where the Committee To Protect Journalists says that there are many zones of media silence in Mexico.

The Committee also says Mexico is a dangerous place to practice journalism and where even internet bloggers are hunted and killed for publishing their work.

In a study released Jan. 7, Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) says 97 reporters have been murdered in Mexico since 2010.

But there are some stories being covered more aggressively that they might have been before the abduction and alleged murders of the college students.

For one, the federal government’s official version of what took place on Sept. 26, 2014 has been under constant attack.

Initially Mexico’s Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said evidence pointed to collusion between the elected mayor in Iguala, Guerrero, the mayor’s wife, local police under the mayor’s command and paid assassins in the employ of a drug gang known as Gerreros Unidos.

Gang members are believed to have thought the students were members of a rival gang or that the students had been sent to interrupt a public speech by the wife of the Iguala mayor.

But witnesses who survived the attack claim that federal police stood down, aware that the students were being rounded up while the Mexican investigative magazine Proceso reports that federal police were waiting to stop the students before they arrived in Iguala.

Previously the federal government claimed that only corrupt local police had been involved.

Even before that revelation by Proceso, the call of ‘Fue El Estado,’ or ‘it was the state’ has echoed throughout Mexico, a reference to the belief of many Mexicans that various agents of the state, specifically a mayor, local police and allegedly now the army and federal police either participated in or did nothing to stop the alleged slaughter.

We visited a radio complex broadcasting across Chihuahua state from three studios near the border to learn how some Mexican reporters are dealing with the aftershock of a moment in Mexican history that some analysts believe may signal the beginning of the end of the political-organized crime status quo that has plagued Mexico for generations.

We met up with reporter Juan Torre while he told listeners that Chihuahua Governor César Duarte denies using illicit money to control a bank, a story that Torre said almost certainly wouldn’t have been covered previously.

Torre said reporters are feeling bolder, albeit he stresses only slightly so, since September.

“You’re in a place, you’re in Iguala, whatever state in Mexico. You know what’s happening. Nobody says nothing.”

But now, he said, some reporters are speaking out about previously unmentionable stories.

“This government, this thing from Iguala, I think it was was the boom, you know. They really did it this time,” Torre said in English.

He said Iguala has refocused his attention on investigative journalism in a place where reporters are often co-opted into silence. But Torre says pursuing the truth in a place where reality is often opaque won’t succeed without engaged citizens.

“So it’s 50/50. We’re going to put in 50 percent to be where the news is, to be there when something is wrong, or something’s good too,” he said. “We’re going to be there. But the people has to participate too. The people have to participate and then we make the government change to the good for Mexico.”

At another radio station, news anchor Francisco Muñoz said Iguala is just one of several recent events changing the way the news is reported.

First, Mexican army soldiers allegedly killed 22 people in June, then came Iguala, then came revelations that President Enrique Peña Nieto's wife and treasury secretary were living in homes built and financed by a man whose companies have won hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts.

"Mexico is sinking, it’s hit rock bottom,” Muñoz said in Spanish. “We need the president to step up.”

Muñoz said he too feels renewed sense of mission, although he also says his superiors have told him to focus on news — in his words — that won’t get him into trouble.

Then he asks a visitor to listen to a post-Iguala story on alleged poor treatment of unionized workers.

He explained that he had been told to spike that story until three weeks ago. While he's unsure exactly why, he was instructed that he could now air the story.

Muñoz then plays an announcement calling on citizens to report police corruption.

As a practical matter, most citizens of Mexico will tell you that they would not call police to denounce other police for fear of retribution.

But Muñoz said the announcement has been played every day since Iguala. He said it hardly played before.