Sergio Haro: Journalism as activism

Reporter Sergio Haro works amid one of the most violent conflicts in the world: the Mexican drug war. Journalism in these circumstances implies some form of activism for Haro. ‘You cannot do nothing.’

‘People abroad often ask us if we wear helmets and bullet-proof vests, as if we are actually going to war. The answer is no. We try to live our lives the way ordinary people do, taking a stroll in the park, going to the movies or going out with friends. We do of course take safety measures, which are nothing more than elementary precautions based on common sense.’

Sergio Haro (56) stubbornly refuses to call himself a war reporter, even though he does his job amid one of the most violent conflicts of the past few years: the Mexican drug war. More than 70 reporters have been killed in Mexico since 2000, and the weekly Zeta, for which Haro has been working as a reporter since 1987, was not spared from this violence. Two of his colleagues have been shot, and former editor-in-chief Jesús Blancornelas was seriously injured in an attack.

Haro himself has received death threats on several occasions, and he was under the protection by a government-assigned bodyguard for a long time. He eventually declined to make further avail of his services because ‘it completely takes away your private life’.

Can a journalist working in these circumstances actually protect himself? 'The basic question is how to minimise the risks we are facing. It is essential that we exert pressure on the authorities, for impunity is one of the reasons why crime and violence are perpetuated. When a reporter is assassinated, the murderer is rarely caught; as long assassins run free, they know they can continue and get away with it.’

Mexican politics does little or nothing to protect the reporters. At the end of last year, parliament passed a law that ‘upgrades’ the assassination of a reporter to a federal crime. ‘That doesn’t get us any further,’ says Haro. ‘Every time one of us is killed, we take to the streets, crying, powerless, demanding for action to be taken. Yet after a few weeks it falls into oblivion, which is utterly sad.’

Wife and son
Sergio Haro knows how difficult his work is for his wife and his son. ‘They become involved in situations they have not asked for, just by being close to me. But we talk about that a lot. My wife is very aware of what is going on, and so is my son. He has had a lot to cope with. For instance when he discovered that armed men were guarding us when he came home from school, or when he could not go to school for safety reasons.’

‘On the other hand these things mould one’s character, make you realise where you stand. We know what we have to do; you cannot do nothing, or just look the other way. We are no heroes, no martyrs, no apostles or whatever. We simply try to do our job, hoping that the authorities, judges, companies and other media will do theirs. The only alternative would be to do nothing and wait for the violence to affect us in our own lives.’

By Cees Zoon