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World: Press Report Says 2003 One Of The Bloodiest Years For Journalists

  • Don Hill

Prague, 10 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Vienna-based International Press Institute says 2003 was one of the bloodiest years for war reporters, and one of the most hazardous for journalists of all kinds.

The International Press Institute describes itself as a global network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists. In its World Press Freedom Review 2003, which was released today, it says 19 journalists were killed in Iraq and 45 others lost their lives in 19 countries last year.

"There needs to be a fundamental re-examination of the way that the military communicates information about journalists in order to ensure that some of the events that happened in Iraq are not repeated in other wars."
The report says hostile fire, friendly fire, suicide attacks, mistaken identity, illness, and accidents all contributed to the deaths of newspeople in Iraq.

David Dadge is the editor of the World Press Freedom Review. He says that just as terrorism dominated last year's press review, the war in Iraq overshadowed other press freedom issues in the latest report.

"I think the whole issue of the war in Iraq has really sort of taken over from a number of other issues, such as access to information; the right to promote democracy; the right of broadcasters to be public service broadcasters rather than state broadcasters; the right not to have interference by government in the media. Those issues have been somewhat overshadowed by the war in Iraq. But they're still very important," Dadge said.

The IPI says that at least some of the deaths of journalists in Iraq could have been avoided if -- in the report's words -- "combat soldiers had been given the same information as [was held by] their superiors regarding the whereabouts of journalists."

Dadge explains, "I think what needs to be done is to take notice of what, say, is happening around the world, particularly with regard to what's happened to the journalists in Iraq. On the military side, I think there were a number of deaths -- particularly the attack on the Palestine Hotel [in Baghdad] -- where I think information was held by the allied military but it wasn't passed on to those soldiers who were on the ground. There needs to be a fundamental re-examination of the way that the military communicates information about journalists in order to ensure that some of the events that happened in Iraq are not repeated in other wars."

The IPI report particularly criticizes China, North Korea, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine for failings in press freedom.

China's actions to suppress information in 2003, the report says, included the persecution of journalists and activists who used the Internet to enhance information flow. The IPI says China's lack of openness may also have exacerbated last year's SARS epidemic.

In North Korea, the report says, there is no press freedom at all.

The IPI report says Russia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to practice journalism and also is a leader in the suppression of information.

The IPI says Belarus and Ukraine follow closely behind Russia as leaders in information suppression. The nations' leaders, as the World Press Review puts it, "exercise reigns of terror over independent journalists."

Editor Dadge says access to the Internet is a growing press freedom issue.

"One of the things that IPI picks out is the attempt by, say, countries like Burma or China or Vietnam to stop Internet users from downloading information on democracy. Those who have been caught doing so have received exceedingly heavy sentences. I think this is one of the major issues that's going to become more and more important over the next couple of years," Dadge said.

The IPI's World Press Freedom Review contains a region-by-region and country-by-country assessment of the state of press and broadcast freedom. The 2003 report and reports from previous years are available here.
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