Could journalism save democracy in Latin America?

Freedom of the press is the foundation for democracy in the United States. As I research more for my capstone paper, I have found that a common theme across all Latin American countries: oppressed journalism leads to corrupt democracy.

Last year, twelve journalists were killed in Mexico. Journalists don’t stand a chance against the violence that thrives in the country. According to NPR, homicide rates have hit record levels. The president, who promised to combat violence, has only seemed to make it worse. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has publicly denounced journalists in the country, calling them elitists. In a country where the press is already victimized, this is very dangerous.

It’s no doubt that journalism is Latin America’s riskiest business. But the law isn’t the issue; enforcement is. Journalists in Latin America have no safety guaranteed. Politicians, drug lords and everyone in between have business that they don’t want exposed. The issue is the government doesn’t investigate the murders and assaults against journalists, because the government itself is rooted in corruption.

When I studied journalism in Santiago, Chile for six months, I was astounded at how the occupation was practiced. On September 11, every year, riots fill the streets of downtown Santiago in order to protest the dictatorship that once led the country. I had never heard of this. We were all told to stay inside and avoid downtown during this.

As a journalist, I wanted to go right into the danger. I wanted to report, talk to people and share with the world what was happening in the center of this city. But I wasn’t allowed.

My narrative journalism professor told me that if I went around asking people questions, I would get hurt. Nobody would have my back. The law enforcement wouldn’t enforce the law. I was shocked. In the United States, I could go into a riot and report and the people would want their voices to be heard, not covered up. In Latin America, I learned that secrecy is more important than democracy.

I want to know how to break this cycle. I truly believe that democracy lies in unoppressed journalism. As a student of both journalism and Spanish, I want to use my knowledge and skills to combat the war against journalists in Latin America for the sake of the profession, the society and the well-being of all.

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