Film Review: Reportero – Freedom of Speech South of the Border

In a day and age of print newspapers besieged by factors such as the emergence of the World Wide Web, as two paper towns are whittled down to only one daily, and now New Orleans’ Times Picayune being published only online, one weekly print newspaper is currently expanding its circulation.  What is the secret to the success of Tijuana-based and U.S.-printed Zeta?  According to Bernardo Ruiz, director of a new documentary focusing on this publishing phenomenon, Mexico’s high literacy rate and low Internet connectivity rate are important explanations for the success of this Tijuana weekly paper.  But the most significant reason for its increase in readership is Zeta’s uncompromising content.

This success, alas, comes at a steep cost: While print papers may not be an endangered species in Mexico, honest reporters who boldly go where angels fear to tread, telling the facts about Mexico’s narco-war, gangs, corrupt policemen and politicians, are on that beleaguered nation’s endangered species list.  The high price of this publishing triumph is the assassination of fearless journalists who put truth above survival, as Zeta’s hard hitting investigative reporting exposes the narco-traffickers currently corrupting and at war with Mexican society.  There a byline can be tantamount to signing one’s own death warrant -even if the paper has resorted to using collective bylines “signed” by the entire editorial staff, instead of by an individual journo.  (Although it’s more expensive, the paper is published at a plant in California then transshipped back across the border in order to maintain the paper’s editorial integrity.)

Reportero focuses on reporter/photojournalist Sergio Haro and the harrowing drug war he and Zeta’s other dedicated staffers set out to expose.  While its subject matter is compelling, Reportero’s conventional nonfiction storytelling and slow pace somehow manages to render part of this 71 minute documentary dull.  The contents could make for a great feature film; Oliver Stone’s upcoming Savages is set against the dramatic backdrop of Mexico’s amazingly violent drug wars.  Nevertheless, for filmgoers interested in both narco-trafficking and freedom of the press, Reportero is required viewing.  And here’s three cheers for the brave Zeta-tistas in their courageous crusade to expose Mexico’s drug gangs and bought off police and politicos.  Bravo, companeros!

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