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27 Cases of Journalists Who Died in the Line of Duty

Journalism, especially when practiced without the protective shield afforded in the United States by the First Amendment, is all too often hazardous work. The founding principle behind the creation of the Committee to Protect Journalists 15 years ago was a sense of moral obligation to defend colleagues abroad whose lives were threatened because they reported events accurately or gave voice to opposing points of view.

In 1996, CPJ confirmed 26 cases of journalists who were murdered because of their work, and one accidental death in a plane crash of journalists assigned to travel on military aircraft with U.S. officials in the former Yugoslavia. This number, while still intolerably high, represents a stark drop from the figures of recent years. In 1995, at least 57 journalists were killed in the line of duty, including six cases not confirmed by CPJ until 1996: a murdered Hutu Burundian radio news director; a Bosnian Serb cameraman murdered, allegedly by Bosnian government troops; and three Russian newspaper reporters and one American free-lancer who were killed while on assignment in Chechnya.

Algeria remains the most dangerous country for journalists, with seven assassinations in 1996, bringing the toll since 1993 to 59. There were six journalists murdered in Russia, four while covering the war in Chechnya. One of the most shocking deaths of the year was the June murder of Irish crime reporter Veronica Guerin: It was the first such murder in Western Europe in many years. Guerin was a recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 1995. In sharp contrast to most of the 1996 murder cases on the following list, her accused killers were apprehended and are facing trial.

CPJ’s mission to monitor and protest attacks on journalists and news organizations around the world depends upon the research staff’s careful documentation of journalists killed each year because of their profession. CPJ defines “journalists” as persons who cover news or write commentary on a regular basis, or work as editors, publishers, and directors of news organizations. Photojournalists and members of radio, television, and cable news teams are included, as are the staffs of online news publications that have proliferated on the Internet.

When a journalist is killed, CPJ’s researchers investigate the circumstances of the death. As far as can possibly be ascertained, they differentiate between those journalists who have died because of the perilous nature of their work and those who have died in circumstances unrelated to their jobs. Each account is corroborated by at least two independent sources for accuracy and, if murder is involved, for confirmation that the motive was to silence the journalist. If the researchers conclude that the killing was intentional and stemmed from the journalist’s work, CPJ strongly protests the murder and presses the local authorities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the crime.

But not all job-related killings of journalists are deliberate assassinations. CPJ also counts those who die on dangerous assignments. For example, journalists covering wars can become casualties in the crossfire, or they can be targeted by the combatants. And there are some deaths that can only be described as accidents. One overriding criterion determines which accidental deaths belong on the list: whether the nature of the assignment placed the journalist in harm’s way. Of course, journalists, like other travelers, die in car wrecks and plane crashes. But when, to cite this year’s example, a journalist dies because he has to fly on a inadequately equipped aircraft attempting an ill-advised landing in low-visibility conditions at a badly lit airstrip in mountainous terrain to get the story, CPJ deems his death an accident in the line of duty.

CPJ’s classification of “unconfirmed killings” also bears explanation. Frequently, given the social and political turmoil or geographical remoteness of the regions in which many journalists’ murders occur, it is not possible, no matter how good our sources, to know immediately if the killing was an act of retribution for news coverage or commentary. When the motives for a journalist’s murder are unclear, but there are sound reasons to suspect that it was related to the journalist’s profession, CPJ classifies that death as “unconfirmed.” These unconfirmed killings remain active cases for CPJ, which continues its research to identify the motives for the crimes and perseveres in its efforts to persuade the appropriate authorities to fully investigate the killings and apprehend and punish the culprits.

Overview: Past 10 Years

List of Journalists Killed in 1996

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