By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
The New York Times
MEXICO CITY — Two newspapers in northern Mexico have come under attack by gunfire and grenades this week, in what both called an effort to silence reporting on criminal groups.
The attacks, which damaged the offices but caused no injuries, occurred Tuesday, part of a spiral of violence against journalists that has made Mexico, in the throes of a drug war, the most dangerous place in the hemisphere for the news media.
Two offices of El Norte, a Monterrey-based newspaper owned by the largest print media company in Mexico, Grupo Reforma, were attacked with grenades and automatic-weapon fire, the latest of several assaults on news media offices in Mexico in the last few years.
A grenade exploded outside one of El Norte’s offices in Monterrey at 4:30 a.m., followed by an attack with a grenade that did not explode and gunfire at another office in the city in the afternoon.
In a statement, the newspaper said that the editor in charge of that office “was luckily not at his desk when two bullets went through the window.”
A spokesman for the newspaper said the attacks followed an investigation it had conducted into an organized crime ring it said was based at a state public transportation department that netted “hundreds of millions of dollars” through a plot involving stolen cars and illegal license plates. The newspaper said 175,000 illegal license plates were placed on stolen vehicles, which were then resold to unsuspecting customers. When stopped by police officers who were in on the scheme, the buyers had to pay a bribe or face sanctions for driving a stolen car.
The original article on the alleged scheme was published Monday. “This was an attack on investigative reporting and the people’s right to know,” said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “A lot of media have been cowed into silence and we run the risk, and hopefully not too high a risk, to continue on.”
The other newspaper attacked was El Mañana in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Tex. It said an explosive device that appeared to be a grenade detonated near its main entrance at 6 a.m., causing cosmetic damage to the building but not injuring anybody.
In May, after it was attacked by a similar explosive device and gunfire, El Mañana had announced that it would cease to cover violence among criminal groups. In a statement on Tuesday, it reiterated that policy, while “condemning any action that limits our community’s and country’s freedoms.”
“It is unknown, at this time, the cause of this reprehensible act that is an attack against an established communications outlet with a history of fighting for freedom, equality and justice,” the statement said.
News media watchdog groups are growing more worried that this is shaping up as a particularly violent year for the press in Mexico. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group, said five journalists had been killed in Mexico this year, on pace to match or exceed the seven killed last year, while other groups have reported higher tallies.
Since 2000, 81 journalists have been killed and 16 kidnapped in Mexico, according to the government’s human rights commission. A vast majority of the cases remain unsolved but typically involve journalists who reported on crime or corruption, and many news media outlets no longer report on such controversial subjects or publish only the official version of events.
“What is clear from this is that the cartels are not only waging a war for turf, but are fighting for the control of information,” said Carlos Lauria, who oversees the Americas for the journalists’ group. “There is an information vacuum, and it’s spread all over the country. It’s getting worse and worse.”
Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting.