Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom

MEDIA: 2009 Deadliest Year Ever For Journalists

Liza Jansen

NEW YORK, Dec 17 2009 (IPS) - The election-related killings of more than 30 media workers in the Philippines made 2009 the deadliest year ever for journalists, according to a major press freedom advocacy group.

Sixty-eight journalists worldwide were killed for their work in 2009, a 60 percent increase over 2008 when 42 deaths were recorded, and the highest yearly tally ever documented by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“This has been a year of unprecedented devastation for the world’s media, but the violence also confirms long-term trends,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

“Most of the victims were local reporters covering news in their own communities. The perpetrators assumed, based on precedent, that they would never be punished. Whether the killings are in Iraq or the Philippines, in Russia or Mexico, changing this assumption is the key to reducing the death toll,” he said in a statement.

The record killings were largely due to the 30 media workers killed in a massacre last month in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, making the Philippines suddenly the world’s most dangerous place to be a journalist.

The Maguindanao killings reflect the deep-seated climate of impunity in the Philippines, where long-term law enforcement and political failures have led to high numbers of journalist murders and low rates of convictions over two decades.

“The killings in the Philippines are a shocking but not entirely surprising product of a long-term reality: The government has allowed unpunished violence against journalists, most of it politically motivated, to become part of the culture,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator.

Until the Maguindanao massacre, this year seemed likely to end with 38 killings, a lower death toll than the previous year.

The Philippines were previously number four on the list of the worst places for journalists, after Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan, according to CPJ.

The worldwide tally surpasses the previous one-year record of 67 killings, set in 2007, when violence in Iraq was pervasive and media fatalities there were common, according to CJP.

But since the ending of the Iraq war, violence in the country steadily lessened, with only four Iraqi journalists killed this year, the lowest annual toll since the beginning of the U.S.-led war in 2003.

Turmoil in Somalia persisted, however, with nine local journalists murdered or killed in conflict situations.

“The nine deaths in Somalia are a tremendous loss for the tiny band of journalists who risk their lives every day just by stepping out into the street,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney, who helps oversee CPJ advocacy in the region. “Their courageous reporting exposes them not just to crossfire and random violence but to targeted killing by Islamists who want to control the message.”

Other countries scoring high on death toll list include Pakistan, where four journalists were killed, and Russia, where three journalist killings were recorded.

In Mexico and Sri Lanka two journalists were killed, and in Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nepal, Nigeria, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Venezuela other media fatalities took place.

All but two of this year’s victims were local journalists, not foreign correspondents. Although local reporters have for a long time been more vulnerable to deadly violence than their foreign counterparts, the divide has never been wider, says CPJ’s annual assessment.

Press freedom advocates say that local journalists are finding themselves as targets more often as large international news organisations scale back their foreign operations.

Of the victims this year, 65 percent worked for print media, indicating the importance of newspapers and blogs in reporting news in dangerous situations.

In addition to the murders in Maguindanao, CPJ recorded three other work-related deaths in the Philippines in 2009. In all, 32 journalists and two support workers were killed in the country during the year.

CPJ is still investigating 20 other journalist deaths worldwide in 2009 to determine whether they were work-related. A final list of journalists killed in 2009 will be released in early January.

CJP, a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization, started compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths in 1992, aiming to safeguard worldwide press freedom.

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