It didn’t start with Lenin Cali Najera and it won’t end with Brad Will

This has been noted in the Indymedia coverage of Brad’s death, but not prominently enough: Brad Will is not the first Indymedia journalist to be killed.

Lenin Cali Nájera

Lenin Cali Najera was shot and killed under suspicious circumstances on June 29, 2004. He was a founder of CMI Ecuador, as well as a leader of the youth of Pachakutik, an indigenist political party.

He was shot in the neck in what authorities called a robbery, but his mother said, “They went to kill him directly and took his wallet, but the girl who was at his side, they did nothing to her.” He was 23.

He wasn’t holding a camera at the time, but Indymedia was a central part of the political work for which his family and friends believe he was killed.

The distinction between activism and journalism is a US phenomenon, arising from the contradiction of an undemocratic media in a society where freedom of the press is supposedly a central tenet. Historically, it was accepted that you used the media you owned to espouse political views.(1)

US IMCs, especially NYC, honor that division on a practical, rhetorical, and legal level, if not an ideological one. But outside the US, that hardly even makes sense. I’ve worked with an IMC in South America where members were required to be members in other social movements, so you couldn’t just do media. The legitimacy of your reporting comes precisely from that connection, rather than from the lack of it.

Brad’s death has shined a light on this contradiction, as US corporate media have been forced to acknowledge that Brad was carrying out the function of a journalist even while clearly holding political views. There was a time when no corporate media outlet would utter the name Indymedia, let alone label it a news organization. Now they all have.

(In a possible sign of retrenchment, the New York Times published an AP story that said, “Among those killed in the Oaxaca conflict was Bradley Roland Will, 36, an activist journalist from of New York who was shot in the stomach while filming a gun battle on Oct. 27.” As a poster to the Justice for Brad email list said, “Anyone wanna bet that the ‘from of’ typo above resulted from a prior draft that said ‘from Indymedia of New York.'”

This was after the Times already published this correction earlier in the week: “An article on Sunday about violent protests in Oaxaca, Mexico, gave the incorrect name for the collective that publishes the newspaper for which Bradley Roland Will, a photographer who was killed there, worked, and misstated the newspaper’s publishing schedule. The collective is the New York City Independent Media Center — not the Indypendent, which is the name of the newspaper the center publishes. The newspaper is published semimonthly, not weekly.”)

A broad and growing coalition of media organizations is asserting that freelance and community journalists deserve the same respect and protection. A letter to the US Ambassador to Mexico – penned by Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media and signed by the New York City Independent Media Center, Robert McChesney of Free Press, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, and a growing list of others – states,

Violence against reporters on the edge is harbinger to destruction of press freedom in the middle. Our government and mainstream press should feel the same outrage over this killing as over the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

If anything, reporters who give of their own resources and work under such dangerous circumstances are even more deserving of our respect and protection because of the great personal sacrifice they endure in the quest for the information we need to exist as a free people.

We need a broad defense of Indymedia to make sure no more of our number are murdered, beaten, or jailed.

Beyond our colleague and fellow gringo, we can do a better job supporting all journalists under attack, including those who are being beaten and jailed right now in Oaxaca, according to Reporters Without Borders:

  • Mario Mosqueda Hernández of the Centro de Medios Libres de México who “was beaten and dragged along the ground by 10 federal policemen”
  • Gilardo Mota of the local weekly Opinión who was “held for 48 hours and was roughed [sic] by federal police”
  • photographer Alberto López Cruz of the local daily Extra, attacked by police who took his camera
  • and two unidentified Guatemalan journalists who are reportedly missing.

See more of my articles on Indymedia.


(1) As Bob Ostertag wrote in People’s Movements, People’s Press: “‘Objective’ and ‘unbiased’ became media buzzwords only as a direct offshoot of the concentration of media ownership. Prior to the giant media oligopolists, these notions were conspicuously absent from American journalism. Newspapers and magazines were published because the people who created them had a point of view they wanted to get across and made no bones about it. The notion that journalists should – or even could – write without a viewpoint or opinion emerged as a necessary ideological underpinning of media oligopoly, the selling point for the idea that media control by the few is not inherently detrimental to democratic institutions or culture.”

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1 Comment

  1. […] I don’t have the expertise to offer an accurate critique of the consolidated-media reporting around the struggle in Oaxaca — and many others are already doing an amazing job at that. But if you live in the United States, you can take the time to write a comment to the FCC, and tell them that there’s more at stake than profits, contour maps, vertical or horizontal integration at stake as they set up these new rules. As is always the case with our freedom of speech, lives are on the line. […]

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