31 March 2012

BY AMRUTA MEHTA

In an earlier post, Amruta Mehta wondered whether censorship is the new sterilisation. Since then, she has taken her quest to find out whether censorship is indeed the latest global fad a step further by inquiring about this among friends from around the world. Today, written for Make Blog: a perspective from Mexico. Read the original post, published on 15 March 2012, here.

Introduction

“My little survey, as I explained in my previous post, was to test what I felt, about censorship becoming our newest fad.

My questions were:

  • Whether your country has a history of censorship

  • Whether censorship has increased in the past decade

  • My particular concern is web 2.0: blogging and social media – how have governments reacted to this?

  • If you have any direct experiences of or related to censorship that you can and would like to speak about, and would not mind me publishing on my blog, please share.

The one important thing this exercise is bringing, for me, is perspective. The information reaches our ears is always biased, whether we get it from mainstream media, social media, or any other channel. My friends have always been one source that I use for mind-expanding exercises of my own, so it was natural for me to reach out to them.

Reading the different responses has been enlightening, and I will be sharing here all that I have received, from friends in different corners of the world.

The response below, from a Mexican, is one of the more detailed ones. I am yet figure out whether I will combine this with other replies from elsewhere in the world, if at all. But this is too important and interesting to sit on any longer, so here it is.

Mexico

Does your country have a history of censorship?

‘Yes. In addition to the colonial era during which Mexico was closed to foreigners, there are two very strong factors that propagate a “tradition” of censorship in Mexico.

The Catholic Church has always had a strong influence in most of the country. It has lost its grip in some areas, but only lately. As the faith is pretty conservative and closed, they rather not talk about the problem. An example of its influence is the assassination of two students in a small town by a mob after the priest claimed that they were communists. This happened 40 years ago, but in many places inside the countryside, the influence hasn’t diminished and population has not become more knowledgeable since. What the Church says is the law. Funnily enough, although many people are now protestants or of other faiths, there is a general attitude that the priest, preacher, wise man is right and there is no room for dissent or other voices.

The second culprit is our political system. All of Latin America has had juntas and failed revolutions. In Mexico, we brought in a one-party system that controlled the unions, the indigenous groups, the students, the teachers… It was closer to communism than people would like to recognize.

So all of life became regulated by two systems that do not allow neither criticism nor dissent. Since the one-party system collapsed and the opposition gained access to power, we are able to publish more stuff, but it has been a bumpy road. Religious fanatics still exist in large numbers in addition to the war on drugs and corrupt politicians that behave like a mafia.

One final point - the government pays for lots of informative ads in most media. These are usually about social programs and opportunities. It makes the government one of the biggest ad clients of some magazines and newspapers so they they are kept on a leash: if you criticize too much, you lose your income :/

Has censorship increased in the past decade?

It has. There was a period during which we could joke about the president (a big no no 50 years ago) although you still couldn’t use religious images in non-religious contexts. For example, there was an artist that depicted the Virgin Mary as a working class Mexican mother. She was almost lynched and they tried to burn the piece.

The biggest problem is that we are in a state of emergency at the moment. It is so bad that in many regions, the government has lost complete control and precense. Whole towns have emigrated to other towns or even to the United States. This is because we were not ready for the war on drugs. Our police and judicial systems are obsolete, they work on the basis that they must capture and sentence anyone for a crime, but rarely solve anything; there is also lots of corruption. So these forces have enforced an enormous ‘clean-up’, and as you can imagine, it hasn’t gone well.

There was a lot of corruption in politics in the past, and the press started to flag them and their practices in the 90s. Now the press have to defend themselves with their lives from corrupt politicians and druglords. Sometimes they work together (politicians and narcos) but sometimes they don’t. Journalists have been targeted so many times in the last few years that they have begun to self-censor.

The press does not get protection by the Mexican government to practise its profession of informing the public, and is tired of loosing colleagues, leaving widows, widowers and orphans along the trail, so in some cities, it has decided to not write about the drug violence anymore. They have also decided to cut some reporting on the drug violence at the national level.

People have also become afraid and anyone criticizing anything is treated as some sort of traitor, making journalists or bloggers exposing abuses by the authorities seem particularly unpatriotic. We do not stop and think, ‘Hey, the navy killed an innocent young guy!’ but instead we think, ‘Well, they are doing his job and he must have been involved.’

There is also another type of censorship that is becoming more common. In some cities and regions where the narcos are the de facto bosses, people do not even talk about the last kidnapping or shooting in restaurants or at the beauty parlor. Everybody talks about superfluous things, because you never know who is sitting next to you;  there have been cases where people have been shot in broad daylight because he/she was commenting on the violence.

My particular concern is web 2.0: blogging and social media – how have governments reacted to this?

Not very well. In Mexico, many professional journalists fear for their lives; many have been killed and many have emigrated. One woman who exposed a governor who runs a pedophile network had to move from her city. Bloggers have less protection because they do not have an important body that supports them, not that it could help much in the current situation.

The more liberal, enlightened governors have learned to live with blogging and social media, the brutal ones are less nice. However, the worst violence directed at bloggers comes from the drug lords and governors that work with them. This may be a little confusing but there are several types of baddie governors: some are just corrupts m*therf***ers whereas others are not only stakeholders in the drug trade, but active players.

The drug cartels are also pretty brutal and some are run by ex intelligence agents trained by the CIA, like the Zetas who used to be an elite unit. They are still elite, I can assure you that :(

In the last year, several bloggers have been killed by the cartels, some in Cd Juárez, some in Monterrey or in Veracruz. There are lots of news about this in English language media, this one, for example.

As expected, Anonymous is also a player here and they have been also involved in the drug war by targeting those who help the drug cartels. And as you can imagine, some hackers have been targeted by the drug lords.

It is an awful struggle for power in which there is basically no rule of the law.

If you have any direct experiences of or related to censorship that you can and would like to speak about, please share.

No such experiences, but I do know people who have’”.


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