by Guillermo Lozano
During the last year, Tijuana showed up in the news of the furthest and most unlikely parts of the world. Never in the history of the city has it received reporters from so many countries nor ones so distant. From the end of 2008 through 2009, journalists of eleven different nations came to Tijuana in order to file special reports. Sadly, they did not come to write about our restaurants or our sports teams. They came to write about the incidents of street violence.
The efforts of the governmental tourism departments, the city’s visitors and conventions bureau, and the various PR agencies did not achieve such lavish publicity as that created by the Dantean imagery evoked in the wave of violence that followed September 2008.
Along with the constant barrage of yellow journalism from the mass media in the U.S., Tijuana received journalists from such distant places as Finland, Greece, Holland, Germany, Japan, and China. Prestigious networks, agencies, and newspapers such as the BBC from London, Xinhua from China, and Spain’s El País were among the news outlets that sent reporters.
Although these journalists – with the exception of the Xinhua agency – had been attracted by the subject of violence, their reports were rarely inflammatory or sensationalistic.
The majority of the journalists who came to Tijuana used the technique of asking a local reporter to serve as their guide. Some even paid handsomely to arrange for interviews, guided tours of the affected neighborhoods, and ride-alongs with the police. The reporters’ most frequent requests were to be taken on law-enforcement operations and to interview the chief of police.
“We’re very interested in what’s happening in Tijuana” said Nigel Murray of the British newspaper The Sun. “It’s being painted as a war zone, like Pablo Escobar’s Colombia. Many things are said about Tijuana. We know it has a reputation and that not everything that is said about it is true. Because of that, we need to come and see things for ourselves.”
Laura Ling, a reporter for the Current TV network belonging to the former presidential candidate Al Gore, made an unusual request that was difficult to satisfy: she wanted to interview a hit-man, preferably Teodoro Eduardo García Simental, “El Teo”. When she was told that such a request might be “a bit” difficult to fulfill, she countered that she had already been able to interview members of the FARC in Colombia.
The former police chief, Alberto Capella, was forthcoming with the foreign reporters, often allowing them to accompany him in his armored SUV during tactical maneuvers, while his successor, Julián Leyzaola, has not been so accommdating.
The reporters from the Xinhua News Agency were the only ones who did not focus on violence. They filed a series of articles on the Chinese communities of Baja California and one on Pacific Rim investments in the region.
Although the majority of the reporters were most impressed by the presence of soldiers in the streets, some were interested in the daily life of the city and spent their time on the streets interviewing ordinary residents.
Originally published in InfoBaja, November 2009.
Republished in translation by kind permission.
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