Journalists Killed in the Last Ten Years

The Toll: 1995-2004

Each year in January, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) publishes a list of journalists killed in the line of duty around the world. This list has become the most widely cited press freedom statistic and is often seen as a barometer of the state of global press freedom.

While the correlation between the number of journalists killed and the state of press freedom in a particular country is far from exact–no journalists have been killed in Cuba, for example, and only one has been killed in China during the last decade–the annual list does give some sense of the range of risks that journalists face in reporting the news. To provide a more complete statistical picture, CPJ releases a list of journalists killed during the last decade. The list has been broken down by year, country, and a variety of other categories.

As with all of its casework, CPJ applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a journalist’s murder. We consider a case “confirmed” only if our research confirms or strongly suggests that a journalist was likely killed in direct reprisal for his or her work or in cross fire while carrying out a dangerous assignment. We do not include journalists who are killed in accidents–such as car or plane crashes–unless the crash was caused by hostile action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire). 

If the motives are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist was killed because of his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate to determine the motive for the murder. For this 10-year statistical analysis, we used only confirmed cases.

While we believe that this list is both comprehensive and accurate, we generally have more detailed information about more recent cases. Our staff has grown over the years, and new technology such as the Internet and e-mail have made it much easier to report on the killing of journalists, even in remote places. 

Murdered with impunity
During the last decade, 341 journalists have been killed while carrying out their work. While conflict and war provide the backdrop to much of the violence against the press, CPJ research demonstrates that the vast majority of journalists killed since 1995 did not die in cross fire. Instead, they were hunted down and murdered, often in direct reprisal for their reporting. In fact, according to CPJ statistics, only 68 journalists (20 percent) died in cross fire, while 247 (72 percent) were murdered often in reprisal for their reporting. The remaining journalists were killed in conflict situations that cannot be described as combat–while covering violent street demonstrations, for example. 

Since 1995, CPJ has recorded only 35 cases in which the person or persons who ordered a journalist’s murder have been arrested and prosecuted. That means that in more than 85 percent of the cases, those who murder journalists do so with impunity. In many cases, journalists are murdered either to prevent them from reporting on corruption or human rights abuses, or to punish them after they have done so. The brazenness of the killers is suggested by the fact that 60 of the 246 journalists who were murdered during the last decade were threatened before they were killed. 

In 23 cases since 1995, journalists were kidnapped–taken alive by militants, criminals, guerrillas, or government forces–and subsequently killed. The kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journalreporter Daniel Pearl in early 2002 highlighted this terrible phenomenon. In several cases, notably in Algeria and Turkey, journalists have simply “disappeared” after being taken into government custody. 

Who are they? 
Photographing and recording combat are among the most dangerous assignments in journalism, and during the last decade 62 cameramen, photographers and soundmen have been killed. The majority of them died in cross fire in places such as Sierra Leone, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Russia. But others were deliberately murdered because of images they had captured. In January 1997, the charred and handcuffed body of Argentine photographer José Luis Cabezas was found in a rental car in a resort city near Buenos Aires. He had been killed because he had managed to photograph a reclusive business tycoon reputed to be the head of the Argentine mafia.

Sixty-one radio reporters were also killed during the last decade. The surprisingly high number highlights the importance of radio worldwide, particularly in isolated regions. Local radio reporters are exposed to heightened risk precisely because they are largely invisible to the outside world while being extremely visible in the communities where they report. Six of the eight journalists killed in the Philippines in 2004 were provincial radio journalists known for aggressive local political reporting.

At the other end of the spectrum are American journalists, either in the United States or overseas. U.S. reporters working abroad tend to be extremely visible, to be employed by powerful news outlets, and to work in danger zones for relatively short periods of times. While killings of U.S. journalists understandably generate intensive media coverage in the United States, they are relatively rare. In fact, only nine of the 340 journalists killed during the last decade were American. 

Most dangerous years / most dangerous countries 
The deadliest year in the last decade was 2004, when 57 journalists were killed. That was followed by 1995, when 51 were killed; and 2003, when 40 journalists were killed. 

The deadliest country for journalists in the last decade is Iraq, where 38 journalists have been killed from the beginning of hostilities through 2004. Another 18 media support workers were killed in Iraq during that time.

Iraq replaced Algeria as the deadliest country over the decade. A total of 33 journalists were killed in Algeria since 1995, making it the second deadliest country during that time. It’s worth noting that the decade-long snapshot encompasses only the tail end of 1993-96 civil conflict in Algeria that claimed the lives of 58 journalists. The Algerian conflict began after the government canceled elections in 1992 to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front from winning power. 

In Russia, 29 journalists have been killed during the last decade. Many were killed covering the conflict in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, but at least 11 have been murdered in contract-style killings in the four years after President Vladimir Putin came to power. Among them was Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of Forbes Russia who was gunned down outside his office in Moscow in July 2004.

Lawlessness and war are also major threats to press freedom in Colombia, where 30 journalists have been killed since 1995. No journalists were killed there in reprisal for their work during 2004, but Colombian journalists say this is because provincial reporters are simply too afraid to cover the ongoing civil conflict. 

A rash of journalist murders in the Philippines during 2004 brought the 10-year total there to 22. At least 48 Philippine journalists have been killed with impunity since democracy was restored in 1986. 

Sixteen journalists have been killed in India since 1995, many victims in the dispute over Kashmir.

What does it mean? 
The war in Iraq has highlighted the risk that journalists confront in covering conflict. Yet despite the death toll there, the 10-year statistics make clear that local journalists covering crime, corruption, and human rights violations continue to face the greatest risk. Even in Iraq, most of those killed have been local journalists. Covering combat is risky, but a much greater threat than a stray bullet are the murderers who kill journalists deliberately, using the generalized violence associated with war to cover their tracks.

Increasing safety for local journalists working in dangerous places means giving them greater visibility, and that means publicizing attacks against them. Doing so is one way to fight impunity for those who murder journalists, which is the single greatest threat to the physical survival of the press around the world.

Ilustration: Béatrice Coron