07 April 2007

So-called "Indy" media gloats over Oaxaca reporter's firing

A friend once caustically commented to me that the tenor of the Indymedia coverage streaming out of Oaxaca last fall was making him look like a hardened right winger due to his moderate views and less-than-favorable opinion of the actors in the unrest that consumed his city last fall. (Indymedia coverage was decidedly on the side of those battling the embattled governor.)

Indymedia - more specifically, The Narco News Bulletin- are now at it again, this time tossing dirt on the grave of former Associated Press stringer Rebeca Romero, who critics accuse of bias and exaggeration - a truly curious charge considering Indymedia's lionizing of left-wing radicals.

Perhaps Romero's biggest sin - and the one Narco News found most objectionable - was that her small Oaxaca news agency accepted government advertising. (The Oaxaca conflict pitted striking teachers and a leftist group dubbed APPO against thuggish and corrupt PRI governor Ulises Ruiz.) Taking government advertising, according to Narco News, violated the AP stringer agreement. And on the surface, it taints Romero's coverage.

Now as someone who has previously, but no longer, worked as an occasional AP stringer, there are rules and the company, in my experience, was diligent about checking our backgrounds and how we were earning our livelihoods. Attacking AP is quite frankly stupid.

As for Romero taking government advertising money, it would be a lot more remarkable in Mexico if she refused to take such funds. Governments at all levels here run an endless stream of ads, boasting all sorts of dubious accomplishments and ambitions. What I'm saying is her actions are not especially unusual in this country. But don't expect Indymedia to point that out.


As I suspected, comments left here have both been anonymous and sympathetic to APPO. I published the comments - hit-and-run style comments - since I'm not going anywhere and hey, perhaps I'll be next on somebody's threat list.

First, let's start by saying that if Rebeca Romero violated the AP's rules, then obviously they should take action. But having Narco News pompously take issue with her supposed bias is absolutely absurd. The hagiographical portraits of groups like APPO and the EZLN coming out of some "media" outlets are downright silly. Two colleagues, both sympathetic to the EZLN, covered the otra compana and produced a story full of quotes from supporters lamenting things like "witnessing a dead movement."

Sergio Sarmiento - not a supporter of left-wing causes - pointed out in a column that some of those involved with APPO used to receive money from the Oaxaca state government, but the funds were axed by Ulises Ruiz. Why is he the only one pointing this out?

Ultimately - and this bugs me more than anything else about the Oaxaca coverage - everything is being presented as good vs. evil. APPO = good and Ruiz = bad. How about seeing some shades of gray? Ruiz is bad. (Perhaps evil is a better word.) But does that make APPO the good guy?

Writing in BeyondChron.com, Barbara Lopez, who grew up in Oaxaca, said of APPO:

While there are very positive elements to APPO such as the Indigenous rights group and NGO’s, APPO has also included very violent elements such as anarchists from the U.S., Mexico City, and Puebla and many street children and drug users who are rightfully angry, but whose actions have hurt the movement.

I did not meet a single Oaxacan who hasn’t had a violent confrontation with APPO – except for those very involved. My cousin, a single mother who lives near the television station, was told by a group of drunken “APPO leaders” to provide food and money or they would harm her and her children. The same group dictated to her when she could leave the house or not.

My aunt who owns a restaurant downtown was forced to give $22,000 pesos or her restaurant would be burned down. My uncle was stoned in his car because he had government plates (ironically he has them just so he can sell trinkets in the airport). Our housekeeper was also coerced into giving whatever money she had and a bus was burned in front of her house, scaring her and her family.

People we talked to at the bus corner spoke about wanting peace again while the APPO-controlled radio stations called for violence in the streets. The streets are covered in graffiti, including the 400-year-old churches made of green stone that cannot remove graffiti. This is not what a social movement should look like because violence only further divides a town, usually affects the poorest members of society, and brings on a stronger repression.

I'm checking out of this mess. It's just bizarre. Teachers go on strike for the 25th consecutive year - and are lauded as heroes. APPO protests cripple the state's tourism-based economy, but they're supposedly the good guys. Ruiz acts like a troglodyte and ... he deserves all of his bad press. Adios to this subject.


Anonymous said...

I think the point of the Narco News story was that the AP correspondent did not disclose her conflict of interest and that is a clear violation of AP's own professional "code of ethics."

Narco News (which you confuse with Indymedia, a different media organization) reported that story months ago. Then AP fired her. I'd hardly call that "throwing dirt on the grave." It was a follow up on an earlier story that - you seem to miss this part - had an impact. The story wasn't mainly about bias, but, rather, about corruption.

Now you say that such corruption among the media in Mexico is commonplace. Are you saying the AP code of ethics therefore should not apply there? Is it also common that foreign correspondents like yourself demonstrate disdain for such ethics? The ideological axe here is yours: to the point where you defend corruption even when the corrupt journalist was caught with her hands in the till. In doing so, you say more about yourself than you probably wished to do.

Anonymous said...

Is Ms. Romero dead? She's quoted alive in the linked article, but the title of this post makes it sound like she was killed.

Anonymous said...

I think NarcoNews is inflating its importance in the Romano case, but there were (and are) some very serious questions about Ms. Romano's journalistic integrity and even-handedness in her reporting. I've been in contact with a retired foreign journalist living in Oaxaca (who did not report on the situation, but was in an excellent position to critique the coverage by the various media) who noticed Romano's very biased reportage... and complained repeatedly to AP about it. How much the local advertising biased her reporting, I can't say, but we all have that problem. Covering my small town, of course I'm friendly with the establishment. I dread the day I have to cover our mayor doing something shady, or my favorite "deep throat" on the city council loses an election.

Dave Miller said...

Nice reasoned article. As someone who has spent sonsiderable time in Oaxaca, and been confronted by pipe and flame wielding "peaceful demonstrators", I can attest firsthand to the unreasonableness of Indymedia. They do seem to have an agenda that is beyond reporting and will hammer anyone who does not agree with them as either an idiot, or a tool of capitalist America.

As anonymous mentioned, Narco News and Indymedia are completely different, though perhaps very similar.

Speed said...

NarcoNews and IndyMedia: talk about Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. According to both of them, the APPO never hurt a soul and the Zapatistas rule Chiapas. Hard-hitting news from clueless trust-fund hippies.

Anonymous said...

John Gibler's critique of Rebeca Romero's article was informative and contained detailed evidence for the bias in Ms. Romero's reportings as well as qualifications of this assertion. Your attack on his report was much vaguer and more emotional. If you want to attack someone else as biased, I encourage you to provide equally specific evidence. I would write this under my own name, but when I try to put it in, your site doesn't allow it.

Eliza Migdal