The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said on Monday that 2006 was a year of tragedy for the world's media as killings of reporters and media staff reached historic levels with at least 155 murders; assassinations and unexplained deaths.
“Media have become more powerful and journalism has become more dangerous”; said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
“2006 was the worst year on record – a year of targeting, brutality and continued impunity in the killing of journalists.”
During the year the numbers began to accumulate with civil strife and resistance to military occupation in Iraq.
The IFJ said in a statement that the Media became prime targets of terror attacks or victims of poor soldiering.
By the year's end, 68 media staff had been killed, bringing to 170 the number killed in the country since the invasion in April 2003.
Elsewhere, the IFJ says continuing violence in Latin America, particularly Mexico; Colombia and Venezuela claimed the lives of 37 Media staff while in Asia relentless attacks in the Philippines and Sri Lanka pushed the total of killings to 34.
The only positive sign came in the final days of the year, says the IFJ, when the United Nations, for the first time ever, issued a statement condemning targeting of journalists and calling for prosecution of the killers of Media staff.
In a resolution passed on December 23 2006 the UN Security Council unanimously called on governments to respect international law and to protect civilians in armed conflict. The Council called for an end to impunity and for prosecution of the killers of journalists and agreed to prepare annual reports on the risks facing the Media.
“This was the only bright spot in a year of unremitting gloom,” said White. “For the first time the United Nations has put the focus on a deepening Media crisis. It is long overdue. We want to see action against countries that allow impunity in the killing of journalists.”
The IFJ said apart from 22 Media workers, who met their death accidentally in the line of duty; 155 were either murdered; targeted and killed or unexplained deaths.
The previous high was in 2005 when the IFJ recorded 154 deaths, a number inflated tragically by the deaths of 48 Iranian journalists on a military assignment. But this year there were many fewer accident victims – just 22.
The full details are set out in the IFJ report – Journalism Put to the
Sword – This would be published by the middle of January. The Report also covers the work of the IFJ Safety Fund, which provides humanitarian aid to the victims of violence and their families.
The focus once again is on Iraq, where the IFJ has been campaigning vigorously over impunity in the killing of journalists. For the last three years the IFJ has organised a day of protest on April 8 – the day in 2003 when three journalists died under US fire in Baghdad. There have been 19 such killings in Iraq and in all these cases Media organisations and victims' families were still waiting for independent and credible reports about what happened.
In October a Judge in the United Kingdom said one of the victims, ITN Journalist Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed by American soldiers outside Basra. His interpreter Hussein Osman was also killed and cameraman Fred Nerac was missing believed dead. There have been calls for the prosecution of the US servicemen involved in this and many other cases.
Nevertheless, during 2006 the vast majority of killings have been at the hands of terrorists and sectarian gangs who have made the streets of Baghdad and other major cities no-go areas for many news teams.
But the IFJ said the crisis of impunity was not confined to conflict zones.
On December 12 the Federation joined with other international press support groups to launch an International Commission of Inquiry into the killings of journalists in Russia.
The action followed the assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow on October 7 2006.
Her death was the latest in more than 200 killings of journalists in Russia since 1993. Many of these have been explained, but since President Vladimir Putin came to power around 40 killings of journalists have taken place and none of them have been satisfactorily resolved.
Second only to Iraq among the most dangerous spots in the world for active journalism is the Philippines, says the IFJ, where 13 journalists died in 2006, bringing to 49 the number of Media staff murdered since Gloria Arroya came to power in 2001 – surpassing the numbers killed under the 14-year Marcos Dictatorship.
And in Latin America journalists in Mexico moved ahead of Colombia as the deadliest country for journalists covering crime and corruption with 10 deaths, many of them investigative reporters.
In Africa countries wracked by internal conflict also proved to be the most dangerous for journalists. Swedish freelance Martin Adler was shot while filming a demonstration in Mogadishu and veteran journalist Mohammed Taha, a Sudanese Editor, was kidnapped and killed.
“It has been a year in which small steps have been taken to confront this media catastrophe,” said White, “The issue will figure strongly at the IFJ World Congress to be held in Moscow in May. But we must do more, particularly to help the victims of violence and to bring the killers of our colleagues to justice.”