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Questions Of Reporting And Responsibility

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The news yesterday that the ambassador to Libya and three staff members were murdered over a film mocking the Islamic prophet Mohammad was a shock on an already tense day.

It's the first time in more than 20 years that an ambassador was murdered. The killing struck a particular chord with me because of the complexities the film raises.

Certainly, it can't be argued that the film, "Innocence of Muslims," was made for any other reason than to mock Islam (in one scene, the actor playing Mohammad thinks a donkey is speaking to him and responds excitedly).

Or can it? When is it permissible to make a film mocking another person's religion? When is it wrong to do so? When is violent reaction appropriate? When is it not? And maybe most importantly, who decides the answers to these questions?

In Mexico, 67 news reporters have been murdered and another 14 have gone missing since 2006. Ostensibly, they were punished for their work. There's been very few cases where a journalist's murder was actually solved, so the motive hangs in the air like a black shroud over the Mexican justice system. But I do know that in two specific cases, the reporters were killed for their work. Interestingly enough, it wasn't for reporting on the cartels but for reporting on the cartels' links to local government officials.

These murders are a barbarity and while I don't equate the creation of a smugly mocking film to covering crooked politicos, the bigger questions stay the same.

When is a story worth it? Is it ever not worth it?

Some newspapers and stations, particularly in the states of Tamaulipas, Durango and Sinaloa have backed away from reporting on organized crime. Clearly, the managers of these outlets felt that not every story is worth taking a risk of dying for. But some reporters have continued, in spite of the risks.

My own vote is irrelevant in these matters because American journalists simply don't face the same levels of risk as our Mexican colleagues. But the larger question remains: Is it appropriate to produce a film like "Innocence of Muslims" understanding full well the risks involved?

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.