Doing the numbers on press freedom

On Tuesday, CPJ released its annual report, Attacks on the Press, with a global launch in six cities—Tokyo, New York, Brussels, Bogotá, Cairo, and Nairobi. We’ve noticed that different media reports, using our data, have cited slightly different numbers in regards to two key statics, the number of journalists killed and the number imprisoned in 2009—the global benchmarks for press freedom. We want to clear up any confusion. 

Attacks on the Press is an annual survey of events in 2009 and went to press at the beginning of January. At the time, we had confirmed 70 media killings, our highest tally ever. This is the number included in the book.

However, on January 21 we were able to confirm the death of an additional journalist killed in the Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines, which took place on November 23, 2009.  Accordingly, we revised the death toll upward to 71 and included this information in our press release. It was too late, however, to make revision in the book.

The number of journalists in prison at the end of 2009 was 136, with China holding 24 and Iran holding 23. This data is derived from a global census of imprisoned journalists conducted on December 1, 2009. Since that point in time, Iran has broadened its media crackdown and as of February 1 was holding 47 journalists in jail. Some news reports combined these figures and noted that more than 160 journalists are currently in jail.

Other press freedom groups have released their own figures on the journalists killed and imprisoned in recent days. These numbers may be higher than ours because CPJ uses a conservative threshold in determining who is a journalist (as opposed to an activist) and also because we only include those cases in which we confirm a link to the journalists’ professional activities. We still track the cases we consider “unconfirmed” and post those capsules to our Web site, but that number is not reported in our final tally.

It’s important to point out that while the numbers vary somewhat among organizations, the conclusions of the different press groups are the same: 2009 was the deadliest year for journalists in memory and the crackdown in Iran has turned that country into world’s leading jailer of journalists, easily surpassing China.