With at least 117 journalists killed, 2013 was the second deadliest year on the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Death Watch, which started systematically counting work-related journalist deaths in 1997.
The worst year was 2012, with 132 killed, 39 alone while covering the Syrian conflict. As IPI noted last month, impunity for attacks on journalists remained a scourge worldwide. A breakdown of Death Watch figures can be found here.
While Syria, with 16 deaths, became less deadly for journalists in 2013, other countries in the Middle East and North Africa remained extremely dangerous. The region, with 38 deaths overall, was the most deadly in the world for journalists.
Iraq witnessed the death of 13 journalists, most of whom were shot dead; some while on assignment, others after receiving death threats. Three journalists were killed in Libya and five in Egypt, either in targeted attacks or while covering demonstrations that turned into violent clashes with police. As was the case in so many other countries, their murders were never thoroughly investigated and their killers never brought to justice.
Asia, with 37 journalists killed in five different countries, counted the second highest number of journalists’ deaths in 2013. Thirteen journalists were killed in the Philippines, 11 in India and nine in Pakistan, traditionally the three deadliest countries for journalists in the region. Almost all murders of journalists in the Philippines were believed to be related to the victims’ coverage and exposure of corruption and illegal activities.
In an emblematic case, Mindanao province journalist Fernando “Nanding” Solijon was gunned down on the street on Aug. 29 as he was walking home. A local police officer was quoted as saying: “It was really work-related … He was a famous commentator talking about politics. That’s not a safe thing (to do) here in Mindanao.” Solijon, like many of his murdered colleagues, received threats in the days leading up to his shooting.
In a worrying trend, attacks against journalists increased in recent years in India, a development that some interpreted as a consequence of greater exposure of corruption by the local press.
Pakistan – with its volatile political situation, a free and lively press and authorities’ failure to end the culture of impunity – remained a dangerous country for journalists. Those under threat included not only journalists who covered frequent terrorist attacks and the conflicts that affect some provinces, but also those who cover sensitive political issues. Attacks against journalists in Pakistan, where IPI’s Death Watch shows 66 journalists to have been killed in the past 10 years, have gradually increased in recent years. Unfortunately, authorities’ response to this crisis has failed to bring visible results.
Latin America remains a dangerous place for journalists and while attacks have slightly decreased in Mexico, traditionally the region’s most deadly country, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras have witnessed a sharp increase in violence against the news media. In Brazil, where six journalists were killed in 2013 and five in 2012, most attacks targeted radio journalists covering politics or crime, mostly outside of large metropolitan areas. Once again, impunity remained widespread.
The apparent decrease in violence in Mexico, where three journalists were killed in 2013, seemed to be less the result of government policies aimed at ending impunity, than the outcome of a political situation that resulted from elections in 2012. Those elections brought back to power the old ruling party, PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), changing the relationship between state authorities and local power-brokers linked to drug cartels.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia, with 8 journalists killed this year, remained the most dangerous country. With a very weak central government and a general climate of widespread violence, Somalia has counted 39 journalists’ death over the past five years. Elsewhere, two journalists died in both Kenya and Mali, and one died, respectively, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Seychelles, Tanzania and South Africa.
As governments and civil society have united under the UNESCO-led UN Joint Plan Of Action on the Safety of Journalists in an unprecedented effort to fight violence against journalists and the impunity that fosters it, the lives of journalists across the world remain at risk. Leaving aside nations torn by war, very few of the countries that have for many years counted large numbers of journalists’ deaths have been able to develop working mechanisms to ensure journalists’ ability to report freely and safely.
While observers debate whether there is a lack of will by governments to solve the problem or a lack of skills and capacity, they nevertheless agree about the detrimental consequences of violence on media’s ability and willingness to cover sensitive issues in a thorough and independent manner. In some countries, violence is indeed the greatest threat to freedom of the press.