Press violations are on the increase say RWB

Journalists killed: figures show steep rise in death toll

Violations of press freedom increased dramatically worldwide last year, according to the annual report by Reporters Without Borders.

The press freedom campaign group spotlighted the high rate of casualties among journalists covering all conflicts – not just the war in Iraq – as being one of the reasons for more journalists being killed.

The RWB report says: “The massive military deployment and the unprecedented scale of media coverage of the war in Iraq have a lot to do with it. But a more global and particularly worrying fact emerges: covering a war is becoming more and more dangerous for journalists.”

As well as the increased dangers of covering wars, RWB points to the unpredictable hazards of bomb attacks and the use of more sophisticated weapons. It also reports that arrests of journalists and censorship of media reached a record high last year.

The report estimates that the number of journalists killed in 2003 was 42, compared with 25 in the previous year. It also estimates that 766 journalist were arrested, 1,460 physically attacked or threatened and 124 were in jail at the start of this year.

It claims: “The relentless growth in violations of press freedom since 2001 is undoubtedly linked to the fight against terrorism and to anti-terror laws adopted by some countries since the September 11 attacks.”

The number of journalists killed in the Middle East was 16, equal with Asia, which has a far larger population. The casualties in the Middle East were mainly due to the war in Iraq and the continuing Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Of the war in Iraq, RWB says: “The US military could be blamed for the death of at least five journalists, but in no case did they hold any investigation worthy of the name.”

RWB also says in Asia the press is still beset by the same ills, endemic violence (in Bangladesh), large numbers of arrests (Nepal) and censorship (China and Burma).

“Asia remains a continent where it was outstandingly dangerous to work as a journalist in 2003. It is also the world’s largest prison for journalists, cyberdissidents and Internet users,” the report says.

In Latin America, press freedom violations remained relatively stable with “the notorious exception of Cuba where the leading figures of the independent press have been imprisoned”.

RWB reports “a marked deterioration in the press freedom in Central Asia” and “the general trend on the African continent has been a worsening of working conditions for journalists. The deterioration that has affected the local and international press is linked to wars and civil conflicts, but also the fossilisation of some authoritarian regimes such as Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.”

RWB’s estimate of journalists killed in 2003 is lower than that of the International Federation of Journalists which, as reported last week, put the figure at 91. IFJ figures include all journalists and media staff killed in 2003 while working, either accidentally or deliberately.

By Jon Slattery

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