As the Drug War Intensifies, Will the Free Press Be Silenced?

Reportero Docu Examines Freedom of The Press at all Costs – Monday, January 7th on PBS

reportero-movie1_0In 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.

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 Statesone 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.

Bernardo Ruiz’s Reportero tells the heroic and troubling story of Zeta by following veteran reporter Sergio Haro and his colleagues. The film will premiere on PBS as a special broadcast of POV (Point of View) on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 at 10 p.m. (Check local listings.) The film will stream on POV’s website, www.pbs.org/pov/reportero, from Jan. 8 – Feb. 7, 2013. Now in its 25th season, POV isAmerican television’s longest-running independent documentary series and the winner of a Special Emmy for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, two IDA Awards for Best Continuing Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Corporate Commitment to Diversity Award.

In 1980, the Mexican media didn’t look favorably upon reporters like Jesús Blancornelas who challenged the party line. After being fired by five newspapers, Blancornelas took matters into his own hands, founding Zeta and initially managing it from the United States. The paper, owned by journalists, attracted other talented journalists, including Sergio Haro, who first joined as a photographer in 1987.

Scene from Reportero
Scene from Reportero

Héctor Félix Miranda, Zeta’s co-founder, became one of its most popular columnists, writing humorously about the foibles of Mexico’s politicians and social elite, using tips from readers happy to see these once-untouchable figures brought down to earth. “My work in Zeta is proof that freedom of expression exists in Mexico,” said Miranda. “That others don’t practice it is their own fault.” It was assumed there would be some pushback, but what happened was horrific and unexpected: On April 20, 1988, Miranda was shot dead by thugs who worked for Jorge Hank, son of one of Mexico’s most powerful families. Hank was never investigated and would later be elected mayor of Tijuana.

Gradually, the government’s hold over the media loosened. But Zeta was developing a far more deadly enemy – the drug cartels. “As journalists, we couldn’t ignore this real problem,” says Zet co-director Adela Navarro, “so Zeta began to investigate narco-trafficking.”

Taking a stand against the traffickers had its price.

On Nov. 23, 2006, Blancornelas, indomitable founder of Zeta, passed away not from a bullet, but from stomach cancer, and Navarro took the reins. To this day, beginning every Thursday evening, the 92-page weekly is printed just outside of San Diego and trucked to Tijuana.

In 2012, Zeta marked its 32nd year of publishing truth to very deadly power.

bernardo_ruiz_headshot_
Director Bernardo Ruiz

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.”

Reportero is a co-production of Quiet Pictures, LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Bernardo Ruiz, Writer/Director/Producer

Reportero is Bernardo Ruiz’s first documentary feature. He is currently serving as executive producer of two one-hour documentaries examining the nation’s dropout crisis, as part of the public-media initiative American Graduate. Previously, he was director/producer of American Experience: Roberto Clemente (PBS 2008), winner of the NCLR ALMA Award for Outstanding Made-for-Television Documentary. He was the co-producer of POV’s The Sixth Section, a depiction of the transnational organizing efforts of a community of Mexican immigrants in New York. The film, which premiered on PBS in 2003, won the top short documentary prize at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico.

Ruiz is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in film, and his work has been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Sundance Documentary Institute, Cinereach and ITVS. In 2007, he founded Quiet Pictures to produce aesthetically innovative and socially relevant documentary films for all platforms. He was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and grew up inBrooklyn, N.Y.

Credits:

Writer/Director:                                                                  Bernardo Ruiz

Producer:                                                                              Bernardo Ruiz

Co-Producer                                                                         Patricia Benabe

Director of Photography:                                                   Claudio Rocha

Editors:                                                                                  Carla Gutierrez

Original Music:                                                                     Leo Abrahams

Running Time:                                                                      56:46

 

POV Series Credits:

Executive Producer:                                                           Simon Kilmurry

Executive Vice President:                                                  Cynthia López

Vice President, Production and Programming:              Chris White

Series Producer:                                                                  Yance Ford

Coordinating Producer:                                                      Andrew Catauro