The massacre of 30 journalists in the Philppines (Somalia) last November has made 2009 the bloodiest year in history for journalists, according to a report published on the 17th of December by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Upon publication, the report stated that at last 68 journalists had been killed in 2009. The New Year has only served to confirm this, with a record-breaking total of 70 journalists confirmed killed, 40% more than in 2008 and the highest since CPJ started keeping records in 1992. Not the happiest thing to think about when looking back at 2009 then.
Interesting though the figures provided are, it would be more useful still to see them in the context of the number of journalists in operation within each of the areas where a killing has taken place. Sadly such a comprehensive statistic does not seem to exist.
Not surprisingly, the figure that we do have can further be broken down to reveal that 67% of these journalists were covering political agendas. World Focus talks about how last year resulted in the highest death-toll for African journalists since the beginning of the decade. A frightning point made in the article is that "No perpetrator in any of the African cases has been brought to justice. Such a record sends a chilling message to local reporters: you can be killed, at any time, without repercussions." Obviously this only worsens the situation, giving those groups who would perpetrate such a crime the security and confidence to do so - and to continue to do so. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon says that changing the precedent that such crimes should have no reprecussions is key to changing the attitude reponsible for the increasing number of journalist deaths. "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 massacre last November in the Philippines was seen as a low-point in media history. 29 journalists and two support workers, who had been covering the elections in the Maguindanao province, numbered among the 57 victims in what had been a political or clan-rivalry motivated ambush. According to CPJ research, the most tragic prior event for the media was in October 2006, when 11 employees of Al-Shaabiya television were killed in an attack on Baghdad studios. After 2009, the second most bloody year for journalists was in 2007, with 32 journalists killed during the war in Iraq.
The Huffington Post pointed out that the security training that many journalists do get focuses understandably on surviving in a war zone. CPJ research shows that most journalists don't die because they are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the unfortunate victims of crossfire or of a terrorist bombing: More than three-quarters of journalist deaths are targeted murders, and the killers nearly always get away with it. Of the 70 deaths recorded this year only 12 were in crossfire in a combat zone, while seven reporters were killed covering covering such as police raids or street protests. But security training shouldn't be abandoned, as it is still effective in war zone situations.
The Huffington Post came to the same conclusion as the CPJ and condemned the impunity in many murder cases: 96% of murderers last year had complete impunity, while 4% faced 'partial justice'. It is clear then that in the end it comes down to the legal systems to protect journalists by making examples of those who commit such murders and no amount of combat training will change this. Heavy political pressure in favour of this must be applied to countries such as the Philippines and Russia, two of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists, in order to make a real difference. Campaigns such as the CPJ's Global Campaign Against Impunity are therefore vital to the profession of journalism.
Spare a thought amidst your New Year celebrations for those journalists who were not swayed by the danger or the intimidation as they continued to publish the truth. Journalists like, as described by the Rober Mahoney of the Huffington Post:
Lasantha Wickramtunga, a Sri Lanak editor known for his critical reporting on the conflict between the Sinhalese-dominated government and Tamil separatists. Government forces defeated the rebels this year after 26 years of fighting. In January, Wickramatunga wrote in The Sunday Leader: "People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted." Shortly after the column appeared, eight helmeted men on four motorcycles stopped Wickramatunga as he drove on a Colombo street and beat him to death.
It is thanks to Wickramatunga and all those like him that we have news from certain parts of the world. It is to them that we owe it to continue the fight against impunity in whatever way we can and to make the world a safer place for journalists. Let's hope that journalists are to fare better during this new decade.