A Year Like No Other, but Media Killings Still High

(CN) — Even with the pandemic keeping many journalists out of the field, there were only three fewer members of the media killed in 2020 as compared with last year, according to an annual tally out Tuesday from Reporters Without Borders.

Saying that most were deliberately targeted and not in war zones, the group counted 50 journalists killed worldwide from January 1 to December 15. Forty-eight of the 50 were men.

Over the last decade, with this year’s losses included, there have been 937 journalists killed. The highest number of killings over the decade took place in 2012 with 147.  

The report points out a troubling trend: More journalists are being killed in countries at peace than at war. Indeed 68% of those killed lost their lives while working in countries at peace this year. 

RSF, an abbreviation based on the French translation of the group’s name, said this trend has been increasing since 2016, when only 40% were killed in countries at peace. 

In 2020 32% of fatalities took place in countries at war, compared with the 58% in 2016. 

Meanwhile more journalists were targeted this year than there were last year. In 2019 63% were intentionally killed, compared with 84% this year. 

Joseph Russomanno, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, said this is a global issue that should concern everyone. 

“The death of any journalists in the course of doing their work is tragic enough. But when they are killed in retaliation for simply seeking the truth and trying to report it, those deaths are all the more appalling. When we talk about press freedom in the United States, rarely are we thinking of it as a life-or-death situation,” Russomanno said in an email. “Instead, here it is usually a matter of access to information and the ability to publish it.”

This graphic from an annual count by the group Reporters Without Borders ranks the five countries that saw the most journalists killed in 2020. They are Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. (Credit: RSF via Courthouse News)

Russomanno went on: “It is important to recognize in this global society that in many parts of the world, being a journalist is replete with very serious risk. People are knowingly accepting that risk so that their fellow citizens may be better informed. To them, humankind is forever indebted.”

Only eight of the journalists killed on the job this year were not intentionally murdered.

Investigative journalists were particularly targeted by the killings, with four being murdered for investigating organized crime groups and 10 for investigating local corruption.

In a year of civil unrest across the globe, 2020 protests led to the killings of seven journalists in Iraq (4), Columbia (1) and Nigeria (2).

The report labeled Mexico the most dangerous place for media members, with eight killed this year. Over the past five years, the report notes, Mexico sees about 8 to 10 journalist killings a year.

Many of the murders in Mexico were rather gruesome, with one journalist being beheaded and the other cut into pieces. 

But Mexico was not the only country to see barbaric murders this year. India saw four murders, one of them being Rakesh Singh. 

Singh was burned alive in his home after being doused in hand sanitizer by three men. One of the men was the son of a corrupt local official Singh had criticized. 

In a video filmed by a colleague of Singh on his deathbed, he can be heard saying, “this is the price for reporting the truth.”

In Iran, journalist Rouhollah Zam was hanged after he was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth,” a serious offense in Iran. Zam is the first journalist to be hanged in Iran in 30 years. 

Iraq had the most murders behind Mexico with six, Afghanistan had five and Pakistan four.

This graphic from an annual count by the group Reporters Without Borders ranks the five countries that saw the most journalists killed in 2020. They are Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. (Credit: RSF via Courthouse News)

Covid-19 has taken a toll on journalists as well, particularly those being detained. RSF notes that at least three have died in prison from Covid-19 because they were not given the proper care.

Covid-19 also caused an uptick in journalists being arrested, with 14 still being detained for their coverage on the pandemic.

RSF reported early this month that 387 journalists are being detained around the world in connection to their work. 

This year also saw a 35% increase of female journalists in detention, the report says.

Christophe Deloire, RST secretary-general, said the attacks on journalists affects everyone.

“The world’s violence continues to be visited upon journalists,” Deloire said in a statement. “Some may think that journalists are just the victims of the risks of their profession, but journalists are increasingly targeted when they investigate or cover sensitive subjects. What is being attacked is the right to be informed, which is everyone’s right.”

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