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POV: Reportero

Airs Monday, January 27, 2014 at 11:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Zeta journalist Sergio Haro and Director Bernardo Ruiz.

In 1980, Jesús Blancornelas and Héctor Félix Miranda founded the Mexican newsweekly Zeta. They intended it to stand as an independent voice, different from the rest of the nation’s largely government-controlled media. At the time, reporting the truth about the country’s leaders was unprecedented—and risky. To secure the fledgling Tijuana paper’s survival, Blancornelas and Miranda located its printing operation across the border in California. The paper’s uncompromising stand against corruption (which included poking fun at those who practiced it) would bring it 30,000 readers—and anger from the country’s leadership.

Courtesy of Claudio Rocha/Quiet Pictures

Images of original Zeta co-directors Jesus Blancornelas and Héctor "Gato" Felix keep their legacies alive at the Zeta offices.

Though Blancornelas was aware that they were making enemies, Miranda’s 1988 murder shocked him and the rest of the country. And the dangers Zeta’s staff would face were only beginning.

Committed to investigative journalism, the muckraking weekly began reporting on Mexico’s deadly drug cartels and the public officials secretly working for them. The Zeta staff’s brave stance—and that of like-minded journalists throughout Mexico—has since cost dozens of lives, making the neighbor to the south of the United States one of the world’s most dangerous nations for reporters.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that 48 journalists were murdered or disappeared during the portion of Felipe Calderón’s tenure as president from December 2006 to the close of 2011.

Courtesy of PBS

Bernardo Ruiz, director, “Reportero.”

Courtesy of Claudio Rocha/Quiet Pictures

Sergio Haro gives an on-camera interview for "Reportero."

Courtesy of Sergio Haro

Patricia Benabe, José "Inerzia" Longás and Claudio Rocha follow journalist Sergio Haro on assignment at a municipal graveyard in Mexicali, Mexico.

Courtesy of PBS

Adela Navarro Bello, Zeta editor.

Zeta and El Narco

Read excerpts from Ioan Grillo's "El Narco"

Bernardo Ruiz’s "Reportero" tells the heroic and troubling story of Zeta by following veteran reporter Sergio Haro and his colleagues. The film premiered on PBS as a special broadcast of POV (Point of View) on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Blancornelas’ attack remains unsolved. The crime against Francisco Ortiz in 2004 also remains unsolved. . . The criminals have impunity. Impunity to kill whomever they want.” But Zeta continues.

And after 25 years of reporting, the deaths of three of his colleagues and threats against his own life, Haro knows he has every reason to walk away. “It’s easier to look the other way and not cover this issue,” he says in "Reportero." “But in the end you would become another accomplice. For the rest of my life, I only want to be a reporter.” He writes every week, telling the stories of the residents of northern Mexico during this wave of unprecedented violence.

The story of Zeta and its editorial team came to Mexican-born filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz accidentally. Planning a film on deported children in Mexicali, he scheduled a short meeting with Haro. It turned into a three-hour conversation. “From that first meeting forward, I understood that all of the narrative threads I had been chasing—immigration, corruption and the rise of narco power in Mexico—converged in Sergio’s story,” says Ruiz.

He developed "Reportero" over the course of three years, meeting with Haro on dozens of occasions. “What goes through a reporter’s mind when he or she is about to break a story that is, as Sergio says in the film, ‘like a grenade before you remove the pin’?” asks Ruiz. “Why persist when the risks are many, the benefits few? "Reportero" poses the same question that serves as the title of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s final dispatches before she was murdered in 2006: Is journalism worth dying for?

“For me, Reportero is an act of remembrance. It is a wake for Sergio’s colleagues, who have paid for their work with their blood. The film is an act of celebration, for Sergio Haro and his many colleagues, who stubbornly persist.”

At least 60,000 people have died of drug-related violence during Calderón’s six-year presidency. Many put that number much higher (Mexican newsweekly Proceso published a death count above 88,000 ).

Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated as Mexico’s new president on Dec. 1, 2012, amid protests against the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Peña Nieto promises to reduce drug-related violence. In June 2012, after four Mexican newsrooms were targeted, the Mexican Congress passed a constitutional amendment giving the federal government jurisdiction over journalist murders, which previously were prosecuted by local authorities. The CPJ and others argue that this measure is inadequate until the government outlines its responsibilities and allocates federal resources.

POV is on Facebook, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter.

Video

Trailer: POV: Reportero

Above: “Reportero” follows a veteran reporter and his colleagues at Zeta, a Tijuana-based independent newsweekly, as they stubbornly ply their trade in one of the deadliest places in the world for members of the media. In Mexico, more than 40 journalists have been slain or have vanished since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón came to power and launched a government offensive against the country’s powerful drug cartels and organized crime. As the drug war intensifies and the risks to journalists become greater, will the free press be silenced? By Bernardo Ruiz.

Video

POV: Reportero: Risky Reporting

Above: A Zeta reporter, after deciding to use his own byline, puts his life on the line in order to publish an important list of people linked to organized crime.

Video

POV: Reportero: It Was A Nightmare

Above: A reporter for Zeta, and independent newsweekly out of Tijuana, Mexico, is threatened after publishing sensitive information.