a culture of impunity makes it cheap, safe and easy to kill journalists
across the world, it’s time to pressure governments into taking action,
says Rodney Pinder
THE WORLDWIDE toll of journalists and critical support staff killed covering news stories is spiralling.
Last year was the deadliest in at least a decade. So far this year,
the International News Safety Institute has recorded 19 members of the
news media killed at work in 11 countries, all but two of them murdered
and no one brought to justice.
In great swathes of the world,
across many countries, murder is a relatively cheap, safe and easy way
to censor the press. A probing reporter is silenced and friends and
colleagues terrorised. And it will only get worse as long as a culture
of impunity protects the guilty. Failure by governments to punish the
killers can only encourage others.
The Committee to Protect
Journalists estimated on World Press Freedom Day in 2003 that in 94 per
cent of cases over the preceding 10 years those who murdered
journalists did so with impunity.
Killing a reporter is only half
as risky as burgling a house in London – and Scotland Yard is hammered
daily in the British press for being hopelessly inefficient in
There is little sign of this appalling situation
improving, despite appeals from Unesco and journalist support groups
such as the World Association of Newspapers, the International
Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, the
Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders et al.
The problem of impunity prompted a Unesco resolution, adopted by member states, in 1997.
urged governments to refine legislation to make it possible to
prosecute those who instigated the assassination of people exercising
their rights to free expression, and requested legal action to ensure
that “persons responsible for offences against journalists exercising
their professional dutiesâ€¦ be judged before civil and/or ordinary
Depressingly, the director general of Unesco, Koichiro
Matsuura, felt obliged to return to the issue in 2003, when he made
impunity the centrepiece of his organisation’s celebration of World
Press Freedom Day. “I appeal to all governments, at all levels, to
fulfil their responsibility to ensure that crimes against journalists
do not go unpunished,” he declared. “It is essential that all
violations are investigated thoroughly, that all perpetrators are
prosecuted, and that all judicial systems and processes are capable of
punishing those found guilty.
“Putting an end to impunity fulfils
our need for justice; in addition it will do much to help prevent
abuses occurring in the first place.” By the evidence, he may as well
have saved Unesco’s breath. Again.
Murderous assaults this year so far include:
● hitmen on motorbikes shooting down popular radio journalist Julio Palacio in Colombia
● gunmen firing into a bus filled with journalists on their way back from a story in Pakistan, killing Allah Noor and Mir Nawab
● a sniper killing BBC producer Kate Peyton shortly after she arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia
● Sheikh Belaluddin, a correspondent for the daily Sangram newspaper
in Bangladesh, dying of heart failure following the bombing of a press
● the killing of Philippines community newspaper columnist Arnulfo
Villanueva, found riddled with bullets following his investigations
into corruption and illegal gambling
● the shooting of Elmar Huseinov, a fierce government critic and editor-in-chief of an opposition magazine in Azerbaijan.
Call for action
And, of course, there is Iraq, the bloodiest killing ground for
journalists in modern times. INSI has recorded 68 dead journalists and
other news media workers since the conflict began two years ago, four
of them this year. Most were Iraqis experiencing the first fruits of
press “freedom” after the Saddam dictatorship; the rest came from 15
No one thus far has been held to account for a single death.
a chorus of concern that underscores their anger and frustration, the
IFJ, WAN, IPI and CPJ in recent months have all stepped up their
attacks on the thriving culture of impunity.
The IFJ called for
more concerted action by political and civil society groups. “Too often
governments display a heartless and cruel indifference to the suffering
endured by the victims and their families,”
secretary Aidan White. “There tends to be a few meaningless words of
regret, a cursory inquiry and a shrug of indifference.”
executive director Ann Cooper condemned the murder with impunity of
journalists in 2004 as “shameful and debilitating”. She said:
“Governments have an obligation to pursue and prosecute those
responsible. By failing to do so, they let criminals set the limits of
the news that citizens see and read.”
Launching its campaign,
called “Impunity – Getting Away With Murder”, WAN director-general
Timothy Balding said: “We call on governments to show much greater
determination in tracking down and prosecuting the killers.”
IPI said one common thread linked the deaths of journalists in
countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Belarus, Haiti, The Gambia, Mexico,
the Philippines, the Ukraine and many others. “Their shameful
connection is the authorities’ failure to properly investigate and
prosecute the killers,” said director Johann Fritz.
Pressure by publication
What can journalists do other than protest and, apparently, continue
to suffer as they try to shine light on the dark corners of society?
They can publicise each and every attack and – critically – sustain
the pressure until results are achieved. In this regard, global news
organisations can help local outlets who have fewer resources and are
more at risk. With few exceptions, the news giants tend to take notice
only when international journalists are targeted, whereas the vast
majority of victims are locals covering the countries of their birth.
Press groups and journalists can investigate and publicise – and refuse
to let go until there is a resolution.
In this context, the
International News Safety Institute was formed in 2003 by a unique
coalition of news organisations and journalist support groups. It grew
out of the realisation that journalists must act to protect themselves:
no one else would. Since then, INSI has attempted to address the issue
of impunity in practical ways.
As well as providing safety
training to help vulnerable journalists look after themselves, INSI has
begun discussions with key militaries on how to improve procedures to
protect journalists on the battlefield. Among other things, INSI is
pressing for commitments to hold full and transparent inquiries when
war reporters are killed by soldiers. INSI is also leading a global
inquiry into the factors behind the rising number of journalist deaths.
committee of inquiry, comprising news organisations, legal experts,
journalists and support groups and humanitarian bodies, is charged with
gathering and collating evidence and producing a report and
recommendations to address the issue.
As Unesco’s Matsuura said
two years ago: “The debt we collectively incur when journalists suffer
on our behalf must be repaid in practical ways. At the very least, we
must declare war on impunity.”
Rodney Pinder is director of the International News Safety Institute and a former global editor for Reuters Television
The deadliest year for a decade
JOURNALISTS KILLED IN 2004
Antoine MassÃ©, local correspondent for Le Courrier d’Abidjan, killed on 7 November.
Deyda Hydara, managing editor and co-owner of independent newspaper The Point, shot on 16 December.
Mauro Marcano, radio show host, shot on 1 September.
Antonio de la Torre EcheandÃa, radio show host, stabbed to death on 14 February.
Alberto Rivera FernÃ¡ndez, journalist and president of the Ucayali Journalists’ Federation, killed on 21 April.
Samuel RomÃ¡n, host of Voice of the People, shot dead on 20 April.
MarÃa JosÃ© Bravo, a correspondent for La Prensa, shot on 9 November.
Carlos JosÃ© Guadamuz, host on Canal 23 television station, shot on 10 February.
Gregorio Rodriguez, a photographer with El Debate, killed by gunmen on 27 November.
Francisco Arratia Saldierna, abducted and tortured to death on 31 August.
Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, co-editor of the weekly Zeta, shot dead on 22 June.
Roberto Javier Mora GarcÃa, of the daily El MaÃ±ana and North Mexico Business, stabbed to death on 19 March.
Ricardo Ortega, of Spanish television station Antena 3, shot on 7 March in Port-au-Prince.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (1)
Juan Emilio AndÃºjar Matos, of ListÃn Diario, shot in the head by two men on motorcycles on 14 September.
Oscar Alberto Polanco Herrera, of CNC Noticias, shot by gunmen on 4 January.
Jorge LourenÃ§o dos Santos, of Criativa FM, shot four times on 11 July.
JosÃ© Carlos AraÃºjo, of Radio TimbaÃºba FM, killed on 24 April.
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO (1)
Dusko Jovanovic, of the opposition daily Dan, shot in the head on 28 May.
The body of Pail Peloian, an Armenian journalist on a Moscow-based magazine, found by the side of a highway on 17 July.
Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes Magazine, shot on 9 July.
Adlan Khasanov, a cameraman for Reuters, killed in a bomb explosion in Chechnya on 9 May.
Veronika Cherkasova, of the Minsk-based opposition newspaper Solidarnost, killed in her home on 20 October.
SAUDI ARABIA (1)
Simon Cumbers, Irish freelance journalist and cameraman, shot on 6
June in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, while working with Frank Gardner,
a security correspondent for the BBC.
ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES (1)
Mohamed Abu Halima, journalism student at Al-Najah University in Nablus, shot on 22 March.
Dhia Najim, an Iraqi freelance cameraman for Reuters and the Associated Press, shot on 1 November.
Liqaa Abdul Razzak, an Iraqi news anchor for Al-Sharqiya TV station, shot in Baghdad on 27 October.
Karam Hussein, an Iraqi photographer for German-based European Pressphoto Agency, shot on 15 October, in Mosul.
Dina Mohammed Hassan, of Iraqi Al-Hurriya TV, killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad on 14 October.
Mazen al-Tumeizi, of Al-Arabiya television, killed in Baghdad on 12 September under US helicopter fire.
Enzo Baldoni, an Italian freelance journalist, kidnapped and murdered by the “Islamic Army in Iraq” between 20 and 26 August.
Mahmoud Hamid Abbas, an Iraqi cameraman, killed on 15 August in Fallujah.
Shinsuke Hashida and Kotaro Ogawa, Japanese freelances, killed by gunmen on 27 May.
Milewicz, on assignment for public television network TVP, killed in a
drive-by shooting on 7 May, along with picture editor Mounir Bouamrane.
Assad Kadhem, of the coalition-funded television channel Al-Iraqiya TV, killed by US military fire on 19 April.
Burhan Mohamed Mazhour, a freelance for US TV station ABC, killed in Fallujah on 26 March.
Ali al-Khatib, of al-Arabiya TV, died on 19 March after being shot near a US military checkpoint in Baghdad.
Nadia Nasrat, a news anchor for the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Iraq Media Network, shot dead on 18 March in Baqouba.
Ali Abdel Aziz, a cameraman, shot near a US military checkpoint in Baghdad on 18 March.
Nader; Haymin Mohamed Salih; Abdel Sattar Abdel Karim; Ayoub Mohamed;
Gharib Mohamed Salih; and Semko Karim Mohyideen died on 1 February when
the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish
Democratic Party (KDP) were attacked in twin suicide bombings.
Duraid Isa Mohammed, an Iraqi producer working for CNN, killed in an ambush outside Baghdad on 27 January.
SRI LANKA (3)
Kandasamy Iyer Balanadarajah, of Tamil weekly newspaper Thinamurasu, shot on 16 August.
Aiyathurai Nadesan, a veteran Tamil journalist, shot on 31 May.
Lanka Jayasundara, a photographer, killed in a grenade attack on 11 December.
The body of Stephen Omaois, of the community newspaper Guru Press, found in a dustbin on 7 November.
Allan Dizon, a correspondent for The Freeman and the tabloid Banat News, shot on 27 November.
Herson Hinolan, of Bombo Radiyo, shot on 13 November.
Gene Boyd Lumawag, a photographer, shot on 12 November.
Eldy Sablas, a radio commentator, shot on 19 October.
Romeo “Romy” Binungcal, of two national Manila-based tabloids, Remate and Bulgar, shot on 29 September.
Fernando Consignado, of Radio Veritas, found dead in his home on 12 August.
Arnel Manalo, a correspondent with the daily Bulgar and radio station DZRH, shot on 5 August.
Rogelio “Roger” Mariano, of DZJC Radyo Natin- Aksyon Radyo radio station, shot on 31 July.
Eliseo “Ely” Binoya, a radio journalist with Radyo Natin, shot on 17 June.
Ruel Endrinal, political commentary show host on the DZRC radio station, shot on 11 February.
Sajid Tanol, a reporter for the Urdu-language daily Shumal, shot on 29 January.
Badri Khadka, a regional correspondent for Janadesh Weekly, killed on 29 August.
Dakendra Raj Thapa, a reporter for state-owned Radio Nepal, killed on 11 August.
Dilip Mohapatra, editor of Aji Kagaj, found dead by the side of a highway on 9 November.
Asiya Jeelani, a freelance, killed on 20 April.
Veeraboina Yadagiri, a journalist for the Telugulanguage daily Andhra Prabha, stabbed to death on 21 February.
Diponkar Chakrabarty, murdered on 2 October.
Kamal Hossain, of Ajker Kagoj and secretary general of the Manikchhari press club, abducted and killed on 22 August.
Humayun Kabir, editor of Dainik Janmabhumi, killed in a bomb blast on 27 June.
Manik Saha, of the English-language daily New Age and a stringer for the BBC, killed in a bomb attack on 15 January.