Currently viewing the tag: "Mexico"

January 30, 2018

Staff reporter

Gavin Adamson, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, is working with a group of researchers aiming to improve media coverage of mental illness in Chile and Mexico. (Photo via Ryerson School of Journalism)

Ryerson journalism professor Gavin Adamson is part of a team that will be sharing best practices for reporting on mental health issues with researchers in Mexico and Chile.

The Canadian researchers were recently awarded a $20,000 Canadian Institutes of Health grant for the project Reducing Mental Illness Stigma in Latin America: Dissemination and Planning, which aims to counter negative perceptions of mental illness created by the news media.

Adamson, a co-investigator on the project, will be overseeing production and research in Toronto and working alongside his long-time research collaborator Robert Whitley, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University. Whitley, who has been examining reporting on mental illness by the Canadian news media since 2005, has noted improvements in the coverage. He has produced the Mindset Guide on best practices for reporting on mental illness and an online course for journalists. The two initiatives, dubbed the “Canadian Model, ” explore how the news media contributes to negative impressions of people with a mental illness and provide tips for journalists on best practices for covering the issue.

Adamson, who will contribute expertise in media engagement and mental health journalism to the project, says evidence suggests that the guide has significantly improved the coverage around suicide reporting in Canada: “The coverage has focused less frequently on suicide methods and on blaming the affected people. Instead it has focused more on challenges around treating mental illness and identifying potential social supports.”

The result, he said, is reporting on mental illness by Canadian journalists that is much more sensitive, accurate and positive. Whitley’s research, for instance, has found that the number of newspaper articles about mental illness that are positive in tone almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, while the number of stories containing stigmatizing language fell by a third.

His research also suggests that stigma associated with mental health is high in Latin America, and that resources are not readily available for national anti-stigma campaigns. With the Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant, Whitley and the research team will travel to Santiago, Mexico and Concepción, Chile to present the Canadian Model to researchers.

“We’ll be able to describe previous Canadian action research that shows how helpful it can be to work with the media and with stakeholder organizations in addressing stigma rather than just analyzing text and identifying problems,” said Adamson.

Adamson said the Canadians the results of their Recovery Advocacy Documentary Action Research (RADAR) with their Latin American counterparts. RADAR provides people who have with mental illnesses the training and resources to create their own documentary films. The goal was to see if such videos challenge traditional media stereotypes about people who are mentally ill.

“In our research, people recovering from mental illness describe their own stories about their experiences by producing their own video,” Adamson said. “They describe the challenges they’ve had navigating the Canadian health system, for example, or challenges with social support systems, their experiences with recovery or with the police. The act of getting involved in telling their own stories may help.”

In addition to Adamson and Whitley, the research team includes scholars from Columbia University in New York and from universities and research institutes in Chile and Mexico.

Columbia University’s Franco Mascayano, a collaborator on the grant, conducted a systematic review of research papers and concluded that negative attitudes and prejudices toward mental disorders are prevalent in Latin America and that little has been done to address the problem.

Caption: Robert Whitley, an assistant professor of psychiatry, teaching at McGill University. (Photo by Jorge Gonzales)

“There is still a lack of resources for research,” said Whitley, who is leading the project. “The economies are improving but almost all countries in Latin America have an unstable economy. Over the past 10 or 20 years, these countries who were formerly dictatorships, have become democracies so the economy has improved incredibly and there is more freedom and money available in universities to do research on topics such as mental illness.”

Given this situation, Whitley says, the Canadian team will meet with mental health researchers and mental illness service-users in Mexico and Chile to outline what has been done in Canada and to hear from his Latin American counterparts as well: “I will listen to what they think about it– this will be a listening exercise. I do have something to contribute as I have done this study [in Canada] since 2005 but [Mexico and Chile] have a lot to contribute as well.”

Whitley will produce a research document that reviews past research related to mental illness, suggests initiatives aimed at reducing stigma in Mexico and Chile and discusses possible research questions and timelines.

The team will then lead a two-day workshop in Montreal to develop a research strategy and a focused plan to improve coverage of mental health issues by the media in the two countries.

Mexico and Chile were chosen for the project as they both have high rates of literacy, freedom of the press and widely-consumed media “Chile is one of the most developed countries and Mexico is moving up there but is less developed. We chose these countries because we saw opportunity,” Whitley said.

Staff reporter

Documentary filmmaker James Cullingham and exiled Mexican journalist Luis Horacio Nájera were featured speakers on March 9, 2017, at a Ryerson University panel about attacks on journalists in Mexico. (Jasmine Bala)

Mexico’s drug cartels are making full use of cyberspace to mount a campaign of intimidation targeting the country’s journalists and society, says exiled Mexican journalist Luis Horacio Nájera.

Since he fled Mexico in 2008, the drug cartels’ presence on social media has expanded and they now broadcast torture, decapitations and killings on blogs like Blog Del Narco, Nájera said during a March 9 presentation at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Nájera, who is now the PEN Canada George Brown Writer-in-Residence, said reporting on drug cartels and political corruption is now so dangerous for journalists that it is difficult for them to find safe havens inside the country: “Mexico City, before, was considered a safe place or safe city. But now, this is also a place of risk for journalists.”

In 2015, news magazine Proceso’s photojournalist Rubén Espinosa received threats in Veracruz and fled to Mexico City for safety, where he was subsequently assassinated. His colleague, Proceso crime reporter Regina Martinez Pérez, had been found dead in her Veracruz home in 2012.

No one knows who killed them, said James Cullingham, a documentary filmmaker and journalism professor at Seneca College, who appeared on the panel with Nájera.

“It could have been cartels, it could have been the state government of Veracruz or a police force in Veracruz in collusion with the cartels,” said Cullingham, who teaches a course on Mexico’s relationship to Canada and the United States. “Most of these deaths are not solved and the investigations are either immediately discredited or are so suspect that nobody in Mexico believes them, and in both [of these cases]…no one knows. They were journalists who were investigators and they were killed.”

Former president Felipe Calderón launched Mexico’s war on drug cartels in December 2006. Since then, at least 80,000 people have died in organized crime-related incidents according to estimates in a 2015 report released by the Congressional Research Service.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported last year that 107 journalists were murdered between 2000 and September 2015, making Mexico “one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice journalism.”

Just last week, Armando Arrieta Granados, the editorial director of the Veracruz newspaper La Opinión, was shot and remains in serious condition, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. A few days earlier on March 23, Miroslava Breach Velducea, a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada, was killed as she was leaving her home in Chihuahua.

Nájera said that in his case he was working for Grupo Reforma back in February 2008 when he and a group of journalists wrote a story on a military operation targeting a Juárez Cartel safe house. The day after the story was published, the journalists received a threatening email saying: “You have to stop or we’re going to chop your heads, including you and including those police officers and soldiers who participated in this raid against us.”

Nájera wrote in a 2010 report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists that a reliable source informed him that his name was on an organized crime hit list because of his reporting on the Juárez drug wars.

“Having seen the pervasive climate of violent crime and impunity,” he wrote, “I could not trust the government and I could not simply let myself be killed under some lonely streetlight. In September 2008, I left Mexico with my family and went to Vancouver, Canada.”

Cullingham said many major media organizations in Mexico no longer use bylines in efforts to protect their journalists. Other news organizations have stopped covering crime altogether and “are saying ‘we’ve just walked away from the story. We can’t have our reporters killed regularly,’” he said.

While the situation in Mexico is dire, Cullingham said, reporters are still committed to documenting what is going on in the country: “It amazes me that [they] continue to produce journalism under these conditions…People are risking their lives to try and tell the story.”

The Mexican government, he noted, has taken some steps to protect journalists, including adopting the 2012 Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. It allows the state to offer various forms of protection to journalists at risk, including portable pocket-sized panic buttons, bodyguards and police patrols. A report published by the Washington Office on Latin America and Peace Brigades International, however, found that these measures are “often not adequately implemented.”

Journalists and investigators, Nájera said, are no longer the only ones being targeted by the cartels.

“Before they were [threatening] police officers, journalists, people who were working on these things,” he said. These were “threats to press freedom, but this is moving towards threats to freedom of expression, which includes civil society and that’s the bigger risk for Mexico.”

The presentation by Nájera and Cullingham was co-sponsored by Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression and the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

Watch the full panel below: