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World: Media Watchdog Groups Say 2004 Was One Of The Deadliest Years For Journalists

  • Kathleen Moore

Media watchdog groups say up to 78 journalists worldwide died while doing their jobs in 2004, making it one of the deadliest years for reporters in the last decade. While many were killed in the line of fire covering wars and other conflicts, others were deliberately singled out for their work.

Prague, 4 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The world's top media watchdog groups have taken tallies of journalists killed last year. The figures vary, but all agree that 2004 was a particularly dangerous year to be a reporter.

The latest report came yesterday from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It says 56 journalists died last year while covering the news.

The committee says they were killed either because of where they were working, such as in Iraq, or because of their work, like Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of the U.S. business magazine "Forbes," who was gunned down in Moscow in July.

At the time, Klebnikov's brother Peter said the family had worried about possible threats against Klebnikov, whose investigative reporting put the spotlight on Russia's rich and powerful.

"We asked him very concretely because we were concerned about it, but Paul was very tight-lipped with his family about the exact details of what he was working on," Klebnikov says. "He wanted to protect his family, and he did not spread too much information about what he was working on."

Not surprisingly, the most dangerous place for the media last year was Iraq. And not just due to the hazards of reporting in a war zone.

Reporters Without Borders says 53 journalists were killed around the world in 2004 -- 19 of them in Iraq.

Michael Kudlak draws up a "Death Watch" for another media watchdog, the International Press Institute in Vienna. He says some of the journalists were killed in crossfire in Iraq. But others were not.

"These journalists were targeted because they were journalists and they were deliberately murdered to silence them," Kudlak says.

For example, Dina Mohammed Hassan, a reporter for the local Arabic-language television station Al-Hurriya, was killed outside her home in Baghdad in a drive-by shooting on 14 October. Her colleagues say she had received letters warning her to stop working for the station. That same day, Karam Hussein, an Iraqi photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency, was also killed by gunmen in front of his home in Mosul. Hussein's colleagues say they believe his death was connected to his work for a foreign news organization.
Not surprisingly, the most dangerous place for the media last year was Iraq.

The International Press Institute puts the death toll of journalists worldwide last year at 78 -- a higher figure because it includes reporters whose deaths may have been related to their work.

After Iraq, the worst place was the Philippines, which saw the murders of at least six journalists who had reported on crime or corruption. At least three were murdered in Bangladesh after covering the same issues there.

The threats to journalists in 2004 crossed many borders.

In Serbia and Montenegro, Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily "Dan," was gunned down in May.

In Saudi Arabia, BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers was shot dead as he filmed a house belonging to an Al-Qaeda militant.

In Kazakhstan, independent online journalist Askhat Sharipzhan died after being hit by a car in July under suspicious circumstances. Transcripts from Sharipzhan's computer and a tape recorder were reported missing the day after the accident.

And the figures show another trend. In most cases, Kudlak says, the attackers go unpunished.

"Most of these murders were committed with impunity," Kudlak says. "In the Philippines they have not caught one of these killers since the country was freed [after authoritarian President Ferdinand Marcos was forced out in 1986]. And it's a trend that is increasing, unfortunately."

The deaths of the journalists constitute personal tragedies for those killed and for their relatives. But the question arises -- why should other people care? Isn't it a case of journalists being preoccupied with themselves?

Kudlak says no.

"Journalists, of course, represent freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, which is the very oxygen of democracy," Kudlak says. "So when you target journalists, you are actually targeting democracy. So people should care very much about this worrying trend."

The executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ann Cooper, says it's of particular concern that so many attackers go unpunished.

By failing to prosecute those responsible, she says, governments "let criminals set the limits on the news that citizens see and read."