Pubdate:  Wed, 24 Sep 1997

Source:   Houston Chronicle, page 1
Contact:  Mexican journalists under siege

Police are suspected in increasing attacks
Copyright 1997 Special to the Chronicle

MEXICO CITY  The truth is, it took a lot to break Rene

Late on Sept. 12, Solorio, a 30yearold crime reporter for
the national network Television Azteca, was pulled over by
four men armed with large pistols. They bound him, covered
his eyes, put him in the car trunk and took off.

Over the next eight hours, they told him repeatedly they
were going to kill him for what he'd shown on television. A
few days earlier, Solorio had filmed a group of armed
robbers at work on a busy city street, with police doing
nothing. It had aired on the network's news show.

Through his ordeal that night, Solorio had managed to keep a
grip on his nerves. He had offered up his car and his money
for his life until it was clear his attackers were
interested in neither. Yet even when several times they
fired a gun near his head, even when on other occasions they
put a plastic bag over his head and watched as he
asphyxiated, even when they put him twice in the trunk of
one car or another  even through all that, Solorio didn't
break down.

"But when they told me they'd already killed my family, and
gave me their names and described them, I couldn't handle it
and just went into shock," he said. "I asked them to kill
me. I just thought of God and my family."

As the sun came up, though, Solorio was left on a highway
leading out of town. His family had not been killed.

Because of the way they spoke, their haircuts, their
behavior, Solorio believes his attackers are police

That incident was one of five recently in which Mexican
reporters who cover police and crime were abducted, beaten,
tortured and advised to watch how they do their job by
people who seem connected to the police.

Another Television Azteca reporter was abducted and beaten
the same day as Solorio. A reporter for the daily newspaper
El Universal was attacked and threatened by three men near
the prison she covers. Two reporters for the daily Reforma
who had been investigating police ties to drug dealers were
tortured and beaten.

Television Azteca has offered a reward for information. The
Mexico City Legislative Assembly has set up a commission to
investigate the attacks. Several media organizations have
condemned the assaults and called on President Ernesto
Zedillo to step up the investigations into them.

"We trust that through his participation there will be a
serious investigation," said Ricardo Trotti, a spokesman for
the Inter American Press Association in Miami, which earlier
this month met with Zedillo over concerns about reporters'
safety in Mexico. "These kinds of things can be a form of
sending a message to all journalists and to see how
authorities and journalists react. If authorities don't
clarify the case, we run the risk of seeing this thing

Zedillo said last week the attacks would not deter his
administration from the conviction "that it is urgent to
move forward, rigorously fighting criminality."

Attacks on journalists in Mexico are nothing new. Since
1984, between 13 and 21 reporters have been murdered for
what they've written, depending on which organization you

But this year the attacks on reporters have surpassed what
is common even for Mexico.

The country has the highest rate of slayings of journalists
in the world, with three reporters killed in 1997, according
to the New Yorkbased Committee to Protect Journalists.

Meanwhile, a less reported type of harassment also has gone
on. Federal prosecutors have demanded that reporters reveal
anonymous sources, and in other instances, government
functionaries have brought defamation lawsuits against

In one, Foreign Minister Jose Gurria is suing a reporter for
the newsweekly "Ahi" because she printed an interview with a
former federal prosecutor who accused the minister of
involvement with drug trafficking. The prosecutor is
publishing a book where he repeats those allegations, yet
the reporter is being sued.

Journalists here say one problem is that laws regarding the
press have not been modified since about the time of the
Mexican Revolution. Reporters have no guarantee of anonymity
for their sources. Nor is there a publicrecords law stating
what information governmental agencies must make available
to the public and the press.

All of this means that reporters "are working in an
atmosphere of a total lack of protection," said Juan
Bautista, president of the Fraternity of Reporters of

Behind the attacks, in their various forms, is a bittersweet
combination of factors. They have to do with Mexico's
shredded social fabric, an economic crisis that has caused
crime to skyrocket and a justice system that has crumbled
under the weight of prolonged incompetence and corruption.
Coupled with that are encouraging signs of a new society
trying to emerge, in which everything is more open and
critical, including journalism. As part of that opening, the
press and broadcast media are enjoying greater freedoms and
competition for stories has become fiercer.

"As the system of controls breaks down, journalists are
feeling more at liberty to investigate things that are
considered relatively mundane in other countries, like
police corruption," said Joel Simon, a spokesman for the
Committee to Protect Journalists, who was for a long time a
freelance writer in Mexico City.

Following the peso devalution of December 1994, crime in
Mexico City hit unheardof levels. In 1995, crime rose
almost 36 percent, the kind of oneyear increase that one
criminologist said this century has recorded only in
societies during wartime  Tokyo in 1945, for instance.

But not only has crime risen here, it has also organized.
Now instead of the lone burglar or armed robber, people
frequently face organized bands of criminals of every
stripe: armed robbers, truck and bus hijackers, kidnappers,
bank robbers, car thieves, and drug traffickers. The capital
has 710 organized gangs of criminals, Mexico City police
announced this week. Many are believed to be made up of ex
police officers or have police protection.

For now, journalist organizations await a response from the
authorities. This week, Bautista's group, the Fraternity of
Reporters, met with Attorney General Jorge Madrazo, who
promised investigations into the attacks on the five Mexico
City reporters, as well as the murder of the three
journalists in other parts of the country.

Bautista said his organization will send to Congress an
initiative that would revamp current media law to include
guarantees and protections for reporters and their sources.

But for now, journalists remain exposed. And they are left
to ponder that the attackers in the recent cases arrogantly
did nothing to hide their faces.

Television Azteca earlier this week broadcast another crime
report, this one showing car thieves during the day
dismantling vehicles on a street.

"I'll bet a lot of reporters feel, `I'm not going to be
scared off.' It's a matter of pride," said Simon of the
Committee to Protect Journalists. "There's a real political
cost (in these attacks) not just to the police, but also to
Mexico City and to Mexico as a whole."

Sam Quinones is a freelance journalist based in Mexico