Conflict and murder drive sharp increase in journalist deaths

New York, December 18, 2012–Combat-related deaths in Syria and targeted murders in Somalia, Pakistan, and Brazil are the driving forces behind a sharp rise in press fatalities in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ year-end analysis of journalists killed in the line of duty.

At least 67 journalists were killed worldwide in direct relation to their work by mid-December, a 42 percent increase over 2011. CPJ is investigating the deaths of another 30 journalists to establish whether these were work-related.

Unceasing violence during Syria‘s conflict proved deadliest, claiming the lives of 28 journalists killed in combat or directly targeted and murdered by government or opposition forces. With domestic media largely under state control and international journalists blocked from reporting, citizen journalists in Syria have paid the ultimate price. At least 13 citizen journalists were killed while covering the unrest in Syria and serving as sources for international news organizations.

“While nearly every aspect of journalism has been transformed by technology, the central function that journalists fulfill remains unaltered,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists bear witness. When journalists are killed, our understanding of critical global events is diminished. In no place has this truth been revealed more dramatically than Syria, where so many journalists have been killed seeking to inform the world.”

Globally, journalists working online made up one-third of those killed this year, a sharp rise from the one-fifth proportion in 2011, CPJ research shows. Combat-related crossfire was responsible for more than one-third of journalist fatalities worldwide in 2012, while approximately half the deaths were targeted murders. Twenty-eight percent of those killed in 2012 were freelancers, in line with 2011, but twice the percentage of the toll since 1992.

Murder accounted for all 12 deaths in Somalia, the second deadliest country in 2012, where not a single journalist murder has been prosecuted in the last decade. Local journalists said this perfect record of impunity could be attributed to weak and corrupt institutions, which merely encouraged more killings. To fight impunity in press killings, the Committee to Protect Journalists has launched Speak Justice: Voices Against Impunity, a new digital platform to help break the cycle of fear and censorship.

“The cycle of silence works like this: A journalist is murdered, a story dies, others reporters are cowed,” said Simon. “The only way to break the cycle is to speak out, demand justice, and insist that our right to receive information be respected. That’s why raising our voice on behalf of our slain colleagues is not just a matter of solidarity–for those of us who care about news and information, it’s also a matter of self-interest.”

Pakistan, the deadliest place for journalists in the past two years, dropped to third place in 2012 with seven killings, although the number of fatalities did not decrease and impunity reigned in the country. Four of the journalists were killed in Baluchistan, a heavily conflicted area with many factions vying for control. Along with Russia and the Philippines, each with one journalist murder this year, Pakistan is a place where journalists are routinely targeted and the killers evade justice.

In Brazil, four journalists were killed in direct relation to their work, the country’s highest toll in a decade. CPJ is investigating four additional killings to determine whether they were work-related. Despite Brazil’s increasing global leadership and strides to improve governance, journalists were targeted for their reporting on corruption.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, extraordinary violence has been used to censor the press, yet poor or nonexistent investigations make it difficult to assess the motive. CPJ was able to confirm one journalist killed for his work and is examining motives in five other cases.

CPJ research showed that being in official custody did not guarantee a journalist’s safety. The organization documented an Iranian blogger who died in prison and a Colombian freelance reporter who died from injuries he sustained during an arrest. CPJ also documented journalists killed in Nigeria, India, Ecuador, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

With the exception of Syria, fatalities declined this year in the Middle East and North Africa, where one journalist was killed in Bahrain and another in Egypt. For the first time since 2003, CPJ did not confirm any work-related deaths in Iraq.

Worldwide, one media support worker was killed this year, down from five in 2011.

CPJ has compiled detailed records on journalist fatalities since 1992. Staff members independently investigate and verify the circumstances behind each death. CPJ considers a case work-related only when reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment. Cases involving unclear motives, but with a potential link to journalism, are classified as “unconfirmed” and CPJ continues to investigate.

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