Drug cartels threaten Mexico's press

MEXICO CITY — Press advocates and newspaper editors say a campaign by criminal syndicates to kill journalists is drawing a dark curtain across swaths of Mexico.

"We aren't reporting on matters of drug trafficking," Patricia Mercado, the editor of the Imagen newspaper in Zacatecas, acknowledged bluntly at a forum Thursday that brought together editors from across Mexico. "We've been warned that we cannot touch the issue."

"If it's a question of life or death, I have no trouble making a decision. The lives of my reporters are most important," she said, after telling the group that traffickers from the Zetas cartel have "almost become the news editors."

The issue of rising threats against Mexican journalists came to the fore this week after an anguished front-page plea to drug cartels from a border newspaper and the unprecedented granting of U.S. asylum to a Mexican journalist.

The murder of a photographer led Diario de Juarez to publish a dramatic front-page plea that some understood as yielding to criminal gangs.

"What do you want from us?" the newspaper asked regional drug lords. "You are currently the de facto authorities in this city.... Tell us what you expect from us as a newspaper."

"This is a national crisis," said Carlos Lauria, senior coordinator for the Americas for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group. "It affects the fundamental rights of Mexicans to be informed."

President Felipe Calderon received a joint delegation of editors and press advocates from around the hemisphere Wednesday. Afterward, his office announced that it would establish a warning system and plan of protection for journalists, and it reiterated a promise to make attacks on journalists subject to federal investigation.