Media deaths hit 146 in 2005 as Iraq takes toll

By Jon Slattery

The death toll of journalists and media support staff recorded by the International News Safety Institute last year was 146.

The figure is higher than the 63 recorded by press freedom group Reporters Without Frontiers (Press Gazette: 6 January). INSI, unlike RWB, has included in its figures the 48 journalists and media support staff killed when an Air Force Hercules aircraft crashed in Tehran in December. The plane was transporting the journalists to cover military exercises in the Gulf.

The 146 death toll for 2005 is by far the highest annual toll recorded by INSI. It outstripped the 117 dead in 2004, itself the worst year in a decade.

INSI recorded that 98 journalists and critical support staff died on duty, a third of them in Iraq, the bloodiest conflict for the news media in modern times.

Thirty-six were killed in Iraq during the year, carrying the total of news media deaths since the war began in March 2003 to 100. Most of the victims were Iraqis.

INSI director Rodney Pinder said: “These two tragedies – an appalling air crash and a prolonged conflict – remind us of the daily risks undertaken by journalists and their support staff in order to keep the world informed.

“The unsung bravery of so many journalists in so many countries continues to deny the cynics who seek to belittle their profession and diminish their dedication to keeping us informed.”

Most of the journalists died violently – at least 68 by gunfire, seven by bombs, three by beatings and two, in Iraq, were reportedly beheaded. More than 70 of the dead may have been targeted because of their work. Others died in crossfire or other random incidents of violence.

Fifty-seven news media staff died in accidents, including the Iran crash, and one died of poor health, aggravated by being held in custody.

Pinder added: “In many countries the bullet or the bomb is a cheap and relatively risk-free way of silencing troublesome reporting.

“Lack of proper inquiries by the authorities and absence of punishment of the perpetrators encourages more killings and intimidates other journalists into silence.

“It is high time the international community – especially democracies whose freedoms depend on freedom of information – took notice of this and moved to protect threatened journalists and punish their killers.”

INSI is conducting a global inquiry into journalist deaths in order to more precisely determine causes and present a case for action by governments and world bodies.

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