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The documentary Reportero, largely about Tijuana's muckraking weekly newspaper Zeta and its Mexicali correspondent, airs tonight on U.S. public television. The film provides valuable insight into the hurdles and threats Mexican reporters face as they do their jobs.
But for those who are unable to see the film tonight, the film is also airing on the POV website through Feb. 7.
Director Bernardo Ruiz (right) had not even planned to make a film about journalism in Mexico. During a talk in San Diego last year, he said he had gone to Mexicali to look into doing a film about a shelter for deported children in the Mexicali-Calexico region at a time when President Calderón's frontal assault on organized crime was in its early stages.
Ruiz came to the conclusion that he needed to find out more about the repercussions of the drug war he was seeing. That is when "Everyone in the city of Mexicali, which is the state capital of Baja, said you need to talk with one of our veteran reporters, Sergio Haro Cordero."
Ruiz said what was supposed to be a short encounter with Haro turned into a three-hour conversation. "I walked away from that meeting understanding that Sergio's story and the story of his newspaper was much more urgent than any story I had originally envisioned and from that moment going forward I and my team basically followed Sergio and his story and the story of Zeta and that's what kind of gave birth to Reportero."
The story follows Haro, Zeta editor Adela Navarro, and other journalists. It provides background on Zeta founders Héctor "El Gato" Félix, slain by bodyguards for Tijuana gambling magnate Jorge Hank Rhon in 1988, and Jesús Blancornelas. Blancornelas, who was shot and wounded in 1997 by drug-cartel gunmen, died in 2006 at age 70. The documentary also tells the story of Benjamín Flores, an investigative reporter who was slain in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora in 1997.
Why name the film Reportero when it really is more than Haro's story?
Ruiz said, "If you look at the film, Blancornelas, who founded Zeta, he's a reportero, Adela Navarro, who was the editor of Zeta, she's a reportera, Sergio's a reportero, Benjamín Flores, who was gunned down in front of his offices at age 29, shot more than five times in front of the offices of La Prensa in San Luis, he's a reportero, all the journalists who were murdered, El Gato Félix, he's a reportero. The film is really about the oficio, about the job of being a journalist, that kind of dogged work, just the day-in, day-out, the unglamorous job of just being a reporter, so while it's Sergio's voice that anchors the film, it's really the story of all of these journalists."
Ruiz also said the title had its genesis in an earlier period of U.S. filmmaking. "It's also an homage to other documentaries, certainly of the kind in the American independent era, when you were looking at people's jobs, ... films like Salesman, they are about the process of doing your work," he said. The late 1960s documentary is about four salesmen but uses the singular Salesman for its title.
Ruiz, along with Haro, spoke in San Diego as part of the Ambulante Border Series. Their talk and a screening of the film took place at the Institute of the Americas.
Haro (right) spoke about the difficulty of doing investigative reporting because of the economics of journalism in Mexico, in addition to the personal danger that can be involved. He said Flores was trying to do more in-depth, investigative reporting and was killed for it.
Haro has worked on and off for Zeta over the years as well as for radio. He also long worked at the weekly Siete Días, where he said he was satisfied journalistically but faced tremendous money woes, "a thousand problems, red ink up to my neck." So he went back to Zeta to "a job where I had a guaranteed income." As for Siete Días, he said, "The paper is still around, but on life support."
Ruiz said Haro interested him because of the duality of his work, as Haro not only covered crime and corruption but also sought to highlight social issues.
Indeed, Haro's influence on more social matters can be seen in Zeta's end-of-the-year magazine, which named Daniel Solorio as the weekly's 2012 personality of the year. Solorio was fired from his post teaching law at the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexicali last year after he accepted the nomination of leftist parties to run for the federal Senate. Before accepting the nomination, Solorio had missed a number of classes. He has refused to accept a retirement package offered by the university, with which he has a 37-year association, and told Haro the institution is now run by vandals. Solorio sees the hand behind his firing as belonging to Alejandro Mungaray, a top official in National Action Party Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán's government and a former rector of the university.
Solorio was never going to win the Senate seat, as he was in the second spot on the leftist-coalition ticket in a state where the left has never done well. Three seats were up for grabs; two seats go to the ticket that places first, and the third seat goes to the ticket that finishes second. In the July 1 election, the state's first two Senate seats went to the PAN, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party narrowly lost the state's third Senate seat to Solorio's running mate, Marco Antonio Blásquez, but only because tens of thousands of PRI voters spoiled their ballots because they mistakenly thought the PRI's Senate candidates were running as part of a two-party coalition.
Story on Solorio's firing.
Story on Solorio's running mate narrowly winning state's third Senate seat as a result of PRI voters' goofup.
Below: This week's Zeta cover
The cover story is about the new general who is taking over the Second Military Region in Baja California.
Story on the change in command.
In San Diego, Reportero airs at 11 tonight on KPBS. It also airs on Jan. 13 at 2 a.m. It also is available for purchase.