A Year of Attacks Against Freedom of Press
Fifty-five journalists have been killed across the world so far this year. In purely statistical terms, it signifies an improvement. It is six fewer than were killed last year and 17 fewer than in 2013.
Yet it is further evidence of the incredibly hostile condtions under which many journalists work, conditions that have seen a total of 597 killed over the past decade because of their journalistic activities.
The figures, compiled by the New York-based press freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, include only cases in which the motive for the killings has been clearly established as related to the victims’ work*. It also excludes a further 18 deaths in which the motives have yet to be confirmed.
A closer look at the figures reveals a particularly disturbing fact: the high proportion who were murdered in 2015. Of the 55 total, 40 were murdered. This compares with 27 in 2014, 32 in 2013 and 35 in 2012 and the increase suggests that the deliberate, premeditated targeting of journalists is on the rise.
By far the worst single incident this year was the murder in January of eight cartoonists working for the Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. That massacre was rightly the subject of massive media coverage around the globe, not least because it was a transparent attempt to stifle freedom of expression. 2015 also saw the murders of five journalists in each of three other countries – Brazil, South Sudan and Bangladesh – plus four in Mexico.
Just as distressing is the fact that so many murderers of journalists escape justice. Many cases are never properly investigated and very few lead to prosecutions. Even if the killers are caught, often those who commissioned them remain unknown and at liberty.
As Elisabeth Witchel, the CPJ’s impunity campaign consultant, makes clear: “The fact that murders have risen underscores the cycle of violence and impunity that has taken hold in many parts of the world. These numbers will continue to remain high so long as the journalists’ killers continue to escape justice nine times out of 10.”
This issue of impunity is regarded as a major stumbling block in the fight against attacks on journalists, a point made by the CPJ and the International News Safety Institute, the UK-based organisation providing information and training to protect journalists.
That fear has resulted in many journalists, and the media outlets that employ them, refusing to cover major conflicts, notably in the Middle East.
The lesson of the toll of journalistic killings is that the foulness of murder is paralleled by its effects: the death of press freedom.
*NB: Two other international monitors of journalistic killings – the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the Vienna-based International Press Institute – use different criteria to compile their lists. They report, respectively, that the journalistic death toll in 2015 currently stands at 65 and 83.