CPJ: 2009 the bloodiest year for African journalists since 2000

New York, December 17, 2009—2009 has been the bloodiest year for media professionals killed in the line of duty worldwide since 1992, and has seen the highest death toll for journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa in this decade, according to an annual analysis of media fatalities worldwide released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In a week marking the anniversaries of the unsolved murders of journalists Norbert Zongo of Burkina Faso and Gambian Deyda Hydara, the report denotes that none of the perpetrators of the 2009 journalist murder cases have been brought to justice.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 journalists have been murdered in direct relation to their work this year, just one less loss of life than the heavy toll recorded in 1999, which was largely caused by Sierra Leone’s civil war. This time, Somalia’s ongoing conflict claimed the most victims, but other journalists were murdered while investigating local corruption in Nigeria and Kenya or covering the political crisis in Madagascar. CPJ is investigating the cases of two other journalists in Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo to determine whether their deaths were related to journalism.

In Somalia, nine local journalists were murdered or killed in combat situations. Throughout 2009, violent Islamist extremists waged a terror campaign against the Somali press, threatening and murdering journalists and seizing news outlets. “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 insurgents who want to control the message.”

Worldwide, at least 68 journalists were killed for their work in 2009, the highest yearly tally ever documented by CPJ. This figure was largely due to an election-relatedslaughter of more than 30 media workers in the Philippine province of Maguindanao, the deadliest event for the press in CPJ history. The worldwide tally surpasses the previous record of 67 deaths, recorded in 2007 when violence in Iraq was pervasive and media fatalities there were common. CPJ is still investigating 20 other journalist deaths worldwide in 2009 to determine whether they were work-related.

“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.”

The enormity of the Philippine massacre is unparalleled. Twenty-nine journalists and two support workers were among the 57 people brutally murdered in a November ambush motivated by political clan rivalries. The deadliest prior event for the press came in Iraq in October 2006, when 11 employees of Al-Shaabiya television were killed in an attack on the station’s Baghdad studios, CPJ research shows.

The Maguindanao killings, while extreme, 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. For two years running, CPJ has identified the Philippines as one of the world’s worst nations in combating violence against the press.

Four journalists were killed in Pakistan during the year, among them Musa Khankhel, a local television reporter known for his critical coverage. Abducted while covering a peace march in a militant-controlled area near the town of Matta, Khankel was tortured and then shot repeatedly.

As in past years, murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths in 2009. At least 50 journalists were targeted and slain in retaliation for their work, representing about three-quarters of the deaths in 2009. Eleven journalists were killed in crossfire while in combat situations, while seven died while covering dangerous assignments such as police raids or street protests.

Many of the deadliest nations for the press in 2009 have long-term records of violence against journalists and high rates of impunity in those attacks.

Three journalists were murdered in Russia, which has had a high media fatality rate over two decades. The 2009 victims included Abdulmalik Akhmedilov, a Dagestani editor who sharply criticized government officials for suppressing religious and political dissent. He was found shot, contract-style, in his car. In September, CPJ issued a report,Anatomy of Injustice, examining the high number of unsolved journalist murders in Russia, prompting government pledges to re-examine several cases.

Two journalists were slain in both Mexico and Sri Lanka. In Durango state, Mexico, assailants abducted crime reporter Eliseo Barrón Hernández from his home as his wife and two young daughters watched. His body, a gunshot wound to the head, was found the next day in an irrigation ditch. Barrón had just broken a story about police corruption.

Here are other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s analysis:

Ø      The 2009 toll is up more than 60 percent from the 42 deaths recorded in 2008.

Ø      All but two of the 2009 victims were local journalists. While local reporters have long been more vulnerable to deadly violence than their foreign counterparts, the divide has never been wider in CPJ’s annual assessment.

Ø      Print journalists constituted 56 percent of the toll, indicating that print media continue to play a front-line role in reporting the news in dangerous situations. Although CPJ research has found a notable decline in the number of print journalists in jail, it has charted no comparable drop in fatalities among print reporters, editors, and photographers.

Ø      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.

Ø      Two journalists died of neglect or mistreatment while imprisoned on work-related charges. Novruzali Mamedov died in an Azerbaijani prison after being denied adequate medical care, while Iranian blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi died in Evin Prison under circumstances that were never fully explained.

Ø      At least two journalists were reported missing during the year, one in Mexico and the other in Yemen.

Ø      Nine freelance journalists were among the 2009 victims. The proportion of freelancers was consistent with past years.

Ø      Other places with media fatalities were: Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nepal, Nigeria, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, andVenezuela.

CPJ began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths in 1992. CPJ staff members apply strict criteria for each entry; researchers independently investigate and verify the circumstances behind each death. CPJ considers a case work-related only when its staff is reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment.

If the motives in a killing are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ’s list does not include journalists who died from illness or were killed in accidents—such as car or plane crashes—unless the crash was caused by hostile action. Other press organizations using different criteria cite higher numbers of deaths than CPJ.

CPJ’s database of journalists killed for their work in 2009 includes capsule reports on each victim and a statistical analysis. CPJ also maintains a database of all journalists killed since 1992. A final list of journalists killed in 2009 will be released in early January.

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org.

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Author: ellyakanga

I am Eleneus Akanga. Welcome to my blog about my experience as a Rwandan journalist and all that comes with the trade in East Africa. It's been a great journey so far but very challenging at times. Join me, let's get cracking! ellyakanga@usa.com

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