Fewer Journalists Killed, But 2008 Still a Bloody Year for the Press

Monday, February 2, 2009
Although little solace to the families, friends and colleagues of the 87 journalists killed in 2008, the number of journalists murdered last year has dropped significantly for the first time in five years. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) recorded the killings of 87 journalists and media workers in 2008, down from 107 in 2007. CJFE records the number of journalists and media workers who are killed or targeted in the line of duty because of their reporting or affiliation with a news organization. CJFE compiles its statistics from the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). In recent years, we have been appalled by the reports of more than 100 journalists killed each year. These numbers correlate with four years of intense targeting of journalists in Iraq during the war. In fact, while conditions for journalists working in Iraq remain extremely perilous, it is one country in which the numbers of journalists killed has fallen at last. Last year in Iraq, 11 journalists were killed a staggering number in most countries of the world -- but far fewer than the 47 killed in 2007. According to one IFEX member, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the fall in the death toll is due to the fact that many journalists stopped working or went into exile. Another IFEX member, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), reported that the declining Western media presence also contributed to the lower numbers. "We are certainly relieved that after several years of growing death tolls, we are at last seeing a decrease in the numbers of journalists killed," said Annie Game, CJFE Executive Director. "However, killers of journalists still go free in almost every case, and the reality is that journalists working in a war zone do so with targets on their backs." In one horrific case in the Gaza Strip, Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shana'a, was killed by an Israeli tank shell. The tank fired on Shana'a even though he was wearing a jacket marked "Press" and was standing next to a car bearing "TV" and "Press" signs. His camera captured the moment when he was killed. Once again, countries in Asia and the Middle East were some of the deadliest for the press. After Iraq, the four deadliest countries for journalists include Pakistan with eight killed, and India and the Philippines, both with seven killed. Mexico was the second deadliest country in the world to work in, with 10 journalists killed. It was by far the most dangerous place for the press in the Americas. In just one year, the death toll in Mexico increased three-fold. According to IFEX member Human Rights Watch, Mexican journalists who have investigated drug trafficking or who have been critical of state governments, are the ones exposed to harassment and attacks. Africa is certainly not immune to violations against journalists. In 2008, a total of 11 journalists were killed. Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were among the most dangerous countries for journalists in the continent. IFEX member National Union of Somali Journalists, states that freedom of the media in Somalia remains at the mercy of the Transitional Government (TFG), Islamic insurgents, the Puntland Administration and Somaliland authorities, who have frequently shown their antagonism to independent journalism. Journalists face other types of dangers in conflict areas. In 2008, there were 31 abductions worldwide. From this number, 21 were released the same year, one escaped and nine are still missing. Of the nine missing, two are Canadians. Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped in Somalia on Aug. 23, 2008, and Khadija Abdul Qahaar, also known as Beverly Giesbrecht, was abducted in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2008. One piece of good news is the release of Mellissa Fung, a correspondent with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Fung was abducted on Oct.12, 2008, while on assignment at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the Afghan capital of Kabul. She was held hostage for 28 days. All three of these abducted journalists were working in violent regions in which Westerners are targeted. Worldwide, Pakistan led the way with the highest number of abductions (seven journalists kidnapped), followed by Somalia with five, and Zimbabwe with four. Many journalists who cover issues and subjects that are considered off-limits by the country they are working in, face other forms of retaliation. In many countries, journalists are portrayed as "troublemakers" who act against national interests. Last year, 48 journalists were imprisoned worldwide. No stranger to human rights violations, Iran and Burma led the way with five imprisonments, followed by Azerbaijan with four. While we hope that the decrease in number of journalists killed in 2008 indicates an ongoing trend, this year 10 journalists have already been killed. Four of which have been killed since the Israeli military operations began in Gaza on December 27. Violence against civilians escalated in Sri Lanka. One journalist was killed after predicting his own assassination, and at least five journalists have fled the country or gone into hiding. By releasing this report, CJFE hopes to draw attention to the risks that journalists and media workers face in conflict areas. CJFE calls on all Canadians and the international community to work together to protect the rights of journalists and to ensure the media is given the freedom to do its work. IFEX is a network of 80 free expression organizations from around the world. The IFEX Clearinghouse which gathers and disseminates information from the network is managed by CJFE and based in Toronto.

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