A shot at alternative journalism

Last Friday, October 27, a New York documentary filmmaker and journalist was assassinated by government officials in Oaxaca, Mexico while reporting on the conflict between police and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

Brad Will, 36, was working unpaid for the alternative media network of Indymedia. Will had gone down to Oaxaca to cover the violence that has blown up since the teacher’s union began protesting last spring.

There have been many disappearances, imprisonments and at least 13 deaths in this conflict, which has escalated into low intensity warfare as the Mexican military has occupied the city center. Will was an activist and solidarity worker who put himself in the midst of the conflict to get the story out.

Alternative media outlets such as Indymedia highlight the populist angle of more traditionally reported stories, and provide media attention in cases of political, military or governmental repression. Such attention is otherwise overlooked because of a lack of a wider desire to know about these struggles or perhaps the idea that if we don’t listen, the problem will go away.

The fact that he was shot by a group identified in a Mexican newspaper as consisting of a police officer, public safety chief and a city personnel director is disturbing. But it does not compare to the horror I feel in knowing that Will was holding a camera while he got shot and was obviously a foreigner working for the side of the social movement.

The Mexican armed forces are wielding fear and intimidation to their advantage. Just this past weekend it is estimated that approximately 50 people disappeared, and as the protesters outnumber the armed forces, someone up top is taking drastic measures. The message is clear: foreign journalists, especially the ones reporting from the side of popular movements, should be warned.

I imagine that for other journalists that support the people in Oaxaca, Will’s assassination comes as a rude awakening and the latest embodiment of the stand-off between this movement and the powers that be. For activist journalists, being there at the ground level in such a time of strife and mobilization, whether in Mexico or Sri Lanka or Sudan, means living the fight: “es la lucha, baby.” But when people like Brad Will are gunned down, one cannot help but think twice before hopping on that bus down south. Whether or not that second thought will keep us off the bus is the question that we all must answer.

Posted by Lauren Gaskill, Associate Editor

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