Journalists killed: Inside the numbers

CPJ today released its annual tally of the journalists killed around the world. This is always a somber occasion for us as we chronicle the grim toll, remember friends who have been lost, and recommit ourselves to justice. It’s also a time when we are asked questions about our research and why our numbers are different – invariably lower – than other organizations.

CPJ’s mission – grounded in international law – is to fight for the rights of all journalists to report the news freely, without fear of reprisal.  Our list of journalists killed is a key advocacy tool in this struggle. We routinely use it to confront governments with their own record of indifference or ineptitude, as we’ve done recently in PakistanMexico, and Russia.

For this reason, we are meticulous in making a determination that every journalist included on our list was killed because of his or her work. To be sure, this is a judgment, but it is a highly informed one, based on detailed investigations carried out by our staff in New York and our correspondents around the world.  In the interest of transparency, we provide detailed case capsules on each journalist killed, describing the circumstances and ascribing the motive.

We also keep a second tally, our “unconfirmed list.” These are cases in which, after careful research, we are unable to determine the precise motive for the killing but cannot rule out that it is work-related. These cases remain under active investigation. On occasion, when new information becomes available, we reclassify them.

This year we have an unusually high number of unconfirmed cases, primarily because of the very murky situation in several Latin American countries, where the combination of crime, corruption, and utter lack of official investigation makes it extremely difficult to determine the motive.  We continue to call for justice and pressure governments to investigate all of these cases.

Our list differs from other organizations primarily because of this methodology. Our colleagues at Reporters Without Borders, for example, maintain one list of journalists killed. The International Federation of Journalists and International News Safety Institute also include on their list journalists who are killed in car or plane accidents or contract illnesses while on assignment. This is perfectly consistent with their mission, which is not only to advocate for justice but also to improve safety standards within the industry.

Within the press freedom community, we recognize that different groups carrying out independent research and using different methodologies will arrive at different numbers. We also agree on our shared goal — to highlight the price that journalists pay to bring us the news and to advocate for justice when journalists are harmed because of their work.