Journalism more deadly than the armed forces?

115 journalists reported killed worldwide in 2016 compared to 72 among UK regular armed forces: how is journalism becoming one of the most dangerous professions? 

Mexico’s Miroslava Breach was one of four Mexican journalists to be killed last month, being shot eight times outside her home in Chihuahua. The editor of local newspaper Norte subsequently closed the publication over fears for the safety of his reporters. This raises obvious questions about freedom of the press in South America.

The intimidation and killing of civilians is something which has featured in global journalism since it began. But another aspect is when it happens to those reporting the news. According to the independent Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), over the last twenty-five years 1,236 journalists have been killed worldwide as a direct result of their work, with hundreds more having been murdered with unclear motives.

CPJ statistics show that the most dangerous country to report in is Iraq which has seen 179 deaths directly related to journalists’ occupations since 1992, followed by Syria (108) and the Philippines (78). In terms of journalistic specialism, political and war journalists have the highest mortality rates. Almost half of journalists reported killed were working in print while 88 percent were killed in their own country.

The CPJ campaigns for the justice for journalists against their killers. They state that of the 804 confirmed to have been murdered as a result of their job over the last quarter of a century, 86 percent of their killers received total impunity with no convictions, while fewer than 5 percent have faced full justice.On their website, the CPJ argues: “The unchecked, unsolved murders of journalists is one of the greatest threats to press freedom today.”

The organisation has published a list of recommendations to governments and political leaders, including to “see that investigations extend to the crime’s masterminds in addition to immediate killers”, described as a key barrier to full justice.

UNESCO has designated November 2nd as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, marking the date in 2013 that two French journalists were killed in Mali. In her latest biennial report presented to the United Nations last November, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova describes impunity rates for the killers of journalists as “alarmingly high.”

She writes: “This widespread impunity fuels and perpetuates a cycle of violence that silences media and stifles public debate.”

Great Britain is comparatively safe for reporters, with three journalists having been murdered since the CPJ’s records began. Investigative journalist Martin O’Hagan was shot dead in 2001 in Northern Ireland as a result of his writing, while Punjabi newspaper editor Tarsem Singh Purewal and the BBC presenter Jill Dando were killed in London in 1995 and 1999; both cases remaining unsolved.

3rd May marks UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day, with one of its aims to be “a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.”


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Tony Allen

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September 2021
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