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Yearning for an unbiased view of Mexico

Reminders: The season’s first concert gets under way at 7 Friday night at the cultural center on Bahia Akumal. Tickets 60 pesos at the Colonos, Bamboo and at the door. Refreshments available; also on Friday, the monthly recycling program at the skate park park will run from  9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

OPINION

 

MX unfairly blamed for world drug angst

Commentary by John Schwandke 11/01/11
     As my wife and I prepare for return to our winter residence in Mexico, I’m once again being bombarded with questions from concerned friends wondering why we risk going to such a dangerous place. “Don’t you listen to the news?”, they ask. “Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world! Is there much violence where you live?” The questions have become an annual ritual, for which I blame the media.
As a retired radio broadcaster, it angers me. I’m puzzled by why major U.S. news outlets insist on putting the focus of troubles abroad while ignoring similar situations that exist in the United States.
I also contend that the format in which the news is presented borrows from one formulated decades ago by the “National Inquirer”. That same glitzy tabloid that I used to chuckle at while standing in the supermarket check-out line has become the “format du jour” for too many of the 24 hour news channels.
It is sensationalism, politics, rumor and gossip with a generous dose of speculation. I doubt any of them will be winning the Edward R. Murrow Award for news excellence. I find it increasingly difficult to find a reliable source for unbiased reporting and long for the CNN of yesteryear, as it was when Ted Turner owned it.
Remember when CNN provided broad news coverage, from all around the world, 24 hours a day, live as it happened? We didn’t need a commentator to interpret what we were seeing. We simply watched the news, sometimes glued to the set, while possessing enough intelligence to understand what we were seeing.
Apparently, Ted was a little more than “ticked off” himself by what was happening to his “brainchild”. Ten years after having sold his CNN empire to Time-Warner, and no longer able to influence its programming, he resigned his position on the board of directors in protest, and sold all of his Time-Warner stock shares, sacrificing billions of dollars in the process. I doubt Ted watches the channel much these days either.
Nowadays we’re bombarded with news about government debt in Europe. It seems to be blamed for all that is negative, including our own falling stock market. That strikes me as odd. Don’t we have similar economic problems right here in the United States? Instead of providing political pundits a platform to blame each other’s party for the country’s woes, I wish the media would spend more time investigating the problem.
It seems to me, that with the exception of a few offerings from one network (CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes) others provide little investigative reporting and instead choose to drown viewers with political commentary and infomercials. The watchdog concept, that the media is supposed to serve as an overseer of government, is among the oldest and most revered principles in journalism. I maintain that America’s broadcast media has fallen…and it’s time to get up.
Media bemoans the problems Russia has with alcoholism. Don’t we have a similar problem here in America? I once attended a meeting where the chaplin of Fort Madison Iowa Penitentiary was sharing statistics from a survey he had conducted with the prison population.
He told us that nearly 80% of the inmates he interviewed admitted to being under the influence of either alcohol our drugs at the time they committed whatever crime it was that landed them in jail. Seems like we’ve got plenty of our own problems with alcohol right here at home. Why is it ignored?
We’re told there is great poverty in Africa and India. Yet, there are far too many places, right here in the United States, where people live no better. And, you know what? There’s a proven link between violent crime and poverty. But again, it seems the focus of the media puts the problem in some other country.
So, how do I respond to questions like… “Aren’t you afraid to travel in Mexico? Is there much violence where you live? Is it true that the Cartel murdered the Tourist Police Chief in Playa del Carmen this summer?”
I say… “Yes… it’s terrible everywhere. We had five policemen murdered in Chicago last year. Do you think maybe I’m attracted to danger?”
What everyone should do is “listen to the locals” when traveling. They know which areas to avoid. There are numerous areas in Chicago where no one should dare go, but their existence doesn’t hurt tourism. You just don’t go there!
I then go on to explain how the news media in the United States insists on reporting Mexico’s gang related homicides as a national statistic. They make Mexico sound like it’s a destination point, instead of a country, and neglect to go into detail by explaining that 80% of those killings are concentrated within just 5 of Mexico’s 31 states. And Quintana Roo, where we live, is not one of those 5 states.
Try to imagine for a moment, that television news decided to lump the total number of gang-related killings from cities like Chicago, Miami, Newark, Detroit, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Memphis, St. Louis, Boston, Dallas and New Orleans (to name just a few) altogether, into one national statistic. What would that number sound like? On top of that, make sure the reports include stories like these:
      In Los Angeles County, law enforcement officials are aware of more than 1300 street gangs with over 150,000 members. In the City of Los Angeles alone, there are over 400 separate gangs and an estimated 39,000 gang members. (Taken from the “Annual Report to Congress- Creating a Safer America,” & “Gang Reduction Strategy,” City of Los Angeles, 2007).
** Chicago Sun-Times (10/29/11 Headline): “2 Dead, 14 Wounded in Weekend Shootings!”
*** FBI reports 14,748 People Murdered Last Year in the United States!
Do you think tourism in the United States might be affected if the media bombarded the airwaves with stories like these?
According to a study from consulting firm Grupo Multisistemas de Seguridad Industrial, there were 18,900 homicides in Mexico in 2010, some 63 percent were murders, 11.1 percent were multiple murders, 8.5 percent were killings of police officers (of which many were believed to be “on the take” from rival gangs) and 7.6 percent were involuntary homicides, with smaller percentages involving killings of the elderly and infants.
This ranks Mexico No. 6 in the world per capita. South Africa has the highest homicide rate in the world, with 126 per 100,000 people, followed by Colombia, with 114.5, Guatemala, with 44, Thailand, with 41.5, Paraguay, with 19.4, and then Mexico, with 12 per 100,000 people, the study said.
The U.S. homicide rate, which has declined substantially since 1991 from a rate per 100,000 persons of 9.8 to 4.8 in 2010, is still among the highest in the industrialized world. Remember, there were 14,748 murders in the United States in 2010. Not an insignificant number.
Do you feel safe traveling in the United States? I feel reasonably safe while traveling in both the United States and Mexico, but in so doing, I avoid areas known to be a haven for gang violence.
(Readers are invited to respond to the above comment and editorial)

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