Reporters Without Borders is today releasing a thematic report on what is now the single biggest threat to media freedom – organized crime.
A total of 141 journalists were killed during the decade of the 2000s for daring to denounce the influence of criminal gangs and their parallel economy. Since the end of the Cold War, the media’s leading predators have been mafias, drug cartels and paramilitary groups that have turned to large-scale smuggling. Mafias of the traditional Costa Nostra kind are no longer the only form that this transnational phenomenon takes, one that is deadlier for journalists than the world’s remaining oppressive regimes and dictatorships. No continent is spared.
There is more to organized crime than the toll of dead and injured from its operations. It is a complex geopolitical and economic reality that the media have the utmost difficulty in portraying. Financial networks, money-laundering, legal fronts and tax paradises constitute an invisible but ubiquitous parallel world that will not be brought down by the arrest of any godfather or drug lord.
Organized crime not only poses a physical danger to journalists, it also defies the media’s investigative ability. At the same time, the media and public relations constitute a strategic objective for criminal groups. Far from wanting to overthrow the social order, they want to infiltrate it and use it.
With the help of its local correspondents and by interviewing journalists and media observers in every continent, Reporters Without Borders has tried to describe the obstacles and challenges that organized crime poses to the media, which are often reduced to covering this complex issue in terms of shootouts and bloodshed, or to just counting the dead in their own ranks.
It is clear from this report that the media are not united against organized crime, their correspondents are isolated and lack resources, and their capacity for investigative reporting is eclipsed by the race for breaking news. Without claiming to offer definitive solutions to this enormous problem, Reporters Without Borders recommends pooling information and sources, and calls for the creation of journalists’ associations that can help to guarantee the independence of their media and prevent murky financial interests from influencing editorial choices.
Journalists are beginning to wake up to the issue. This could be seen at the forum that the Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas organized last September in Austin, Texas. Some of the interventions at the forum provided material for this report.
Certain regional and international initiatives, although too infrequent, show that the desire to report the news has not yet yielded to this mix of terror and pressure.