A fatal year

2012 on track to be the deadliest on record for journalists

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — With 72 journalists killed so far this year, 2012 is on pace to be the deadliest on record, the International Press Institute (IPI) announced here on Sunday.

The media freedom organization’s executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, choked up and struggled to speak as she addressed the group’s annual conference.

“From Somalia to Syria, the Philippines to Mexico, and Iraq to Pakistan, reporters are being brutally targeted for death in unparalleled numbers,” she said.

The most lethal year so far in the 15 that IPI has been keeping records was 2009, when 110 journalists died. Last year was the second worst, with 102 deaths.

Syria, where peaceful protests have turned into a violent civil war, has been the most dangerous country in 2012, with 20 professional and citizen reporters, both local and foreign, killed so far, according to McKenzie.

“It is deeply disturbing that in a year still massively impacted by the once unimaginable—the overthrow of brutal Arab regimes through people and media power—journalists are dying on the job in record numbers,” she said.

Unlike the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which also monitors casualties, IPI counts accidental deaths, such as those of five Indonesian journalists killed when a plane crashed during a demonstration flight in May. Still, the two groups are in rough accord on the violent pace of 2012. According to CPJ, 46 journalists have died so far this year, on track to match or surpass the 97 lost lives it recorded in 2009, the highest number in the 20 years the group has kept statistics.

CPJ figures also finger Syria as the deadliest country for journalists in 2012. As recently as Wednesday, gunmen attacked a pro-government TV station near Damascus, killing three journalists and four others, according to the Associated Press.

“Local reporters have been savagely eliminated. Many have been brutally tortured,” said IPI’s McKenzie of the general situation in Syria.

Cruelty has been global, however. Mexico, whose gruesome drug war made it the most dangerous country to cover last year, according to IPI, continues to be a lethal environment for the media. Two weeks ago, one of the powerful cartels there kidnapped and murdered Victor Manuel Baez Chino, who covered crime in the state of Veracuz for a local edition of the national newspaper Milenio. He was the fifth journalist be killed in the state in the last six weeks, the AP reported.

A few days after Baez Chino’s murder and halfway around the world, assailants in Bangladesh stabbed to death newspaper reporter Jamal Uddin while he visited a tea stall, according to CPJ. The list goes on and on, and even more journalists have only narrowly escaped having their names added to it.

On Sunday, two unexploded hand grenades were lobbed onto the premises of a privately owned TV news station in Greece, The Wall Street Journal reported (the South East Europe Media Organization, an affiliate of IPI, had noted an increase in attacks against media in the country a week earlier). And on Monday evening, gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban opened fire on a privately owned TV news station in Karachi, injuring two employees, according to the BBC.

Other forms of press intimidation—from kidnapping in Honduras, to a beating in Peru, to imprisonment in Ethiopia—continue to plague news organizations as well, IPI reports.

At the group’s conference this week, special envoys from the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a joint declaration calling for international mechanisms to address crimes against freedom of expression.

“Impunity is winning,” UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue told journalists.

Sadly, he’s right, and if governments around the world don’t take immediate and strong action to curb violence against the press, 2012 will be remembered as the deadliest year in media history.

Disclosure: IPI paid for my travel and lodging to attend the conference, where I hosted a panel on covering the environment, part of which addressed recent reports that journalists on that beat are also under increasing threat.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , , , ,