Brian Stewart, one of Canada’s most respected journalists, has written a condemnation of the Harper government’s campaign against Canadian human rights and foreign aid NGOs. For decades, these NGOs have received funding from both Liberal and Conservative governments and depend on this government funding to survive. Harper, however, has been less accommodating than his predecessors. For some time now, the Harper government has been “de-funding” groups that dare to criticize the government. The government, of course, claims that this de-funding has nothing to do with political differences, but because the NGOs failed to focus on the three priorities of foreign aid: children and youth; food security; and sustainable growth. But as Stewart points out, “it was just last fall when the auditor general complained that Canada’s foreign policy priorities, or “themes,” have been reshuffled five times in the last 10 years, producing an astonishing 12 different themes in all.” If the government can’t decide what it’s foreign aid priorities should be, then maybe they should let NGOs decide for them. But, of course, this has nothing to do with what areas of international development NGOs are deciding to focus on, it has to do with this government’s unwillingness to put up with critical debate. As Stewart ominously states, “I wonder how we will be able to judge anything in this field in the future with any confidence if independent voices are silenced and independent information dries up out of fear of government retaliation.”

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The International Press Institute (IPI) came out with its six month “death watch” report today. The good news is that the number of journalists killed so far this year has gone down (38 in 2010 compared to 43 at the same point last year). The bad news is that Latin America has overtaken Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East as the most dangerous region for journalists to work in. Honduras and Mexico, specifically, have become the most dangerous countries, with eight journalists killed in Honduras and seven killed in Mexico by the end of June. Furthermore, the article doesn’t mention this, but Mexico’s tally has actually increased to ten since June. It comes as no surprise that most of these journalists were reporting on corruption, although it is a bit disturbing to know that globally corruption has now overtaken war as the most dangerous subject for journalists to cover (although, admittedly, there’s bound to be some overlap between what constitutes corruption and war, especially in Mexico).

The Committee to Protect Journalists is reporting that Mexican radio reporter Marco Aurelio Martínez Tijerina was shot dead Saturday in Montemorelos. Combined with the eight journalists killed in Mexico so far this year, Martínez’s death brings the death toll to nine, making Mexico the deadliest country in the world for journalists in 2010. The continued threat to journalists, combined with the fact that Mexico has one of the worst records in the world of bringing crimes against journalists to justice, has lead to widespread self-censorship by Mexican journalists. At least one newspaper, Zócalo de Saltillo, has stopped reporting on organized crime altogether after one of its journalists, Valentín Valdés Espinosa, was killed in January.

For those of us outside of (and within) Mexico, this self-censorship and the dangers posed to journalists is important to keep in mind when following the ongoing Drug War in the media. The fact is we do not and cannot entirely know what is happening in the Mexican Drug War because of these dangers. Most of the information we are getting is coming not from journalists on the ground who are investigating the situation, but from journalists who report on what government and military sources tell them. Knowing that journalists have become unable and (understandably) unwilling to report critically, political and military officials are given an obvious opportunity to manipulate information on the Drug War for their own benefit and at the expense of public knowledge.