A new report from a leading media watchdog group says the number of reporters killed and jailed worldwide is down for the first time since 2001, but that journalists continue to be the target of violence and intimidation intended to suppress the truth.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, reports in its annual Attacks on the Press that 41 journalists were killed in 2008 - down from 63 the previous year.
CPJ Chairman, Paul Steiger:
"The number of journalists killed in the line of duty last year actually fell significantly for the first time in a while, mostly because of the reduced deaths in Iraq," said Paul Steiger. "Journalists are still being killed in huge numbers - more than 40 last year, more than 100 in the last two years combined, and of those deaths roughly 70 percent were deliberate murder."
The study's authors note that the drop in deaths is mostly attributable to improved security conditions in Iraq, where 11 Iraqi reporters were killed in 2008. That's down significantly from the previous years, but the report finds that Iraq is still a very dangerous place for journalists.
The study also found that 125 reporters around the world were jailed last year. More than 45 percent of them were Internet journalists - bloggers, web-based reporters or online editors.
American journalist Carl Bernstein wrote the introduction to the CPJ study. At the Tuesday United Nations press conference that launched the report, Bernstein said the authors found that press freedoms in many countries have been jeopardized by intimidation and violence intended to encourage self-censorship and suppression of the truth.
"Now the most depraved acts against journalists have become more and more routine, because it is the one effective way of stopping the press under the most horrible circumstances - including kidnappings of reporters' families, targeting journalists for execution - to impose self-censorship," said Carl Bernstein.
Among the countries singled out for their hostile press environments were Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, Zimbabwe and Cuba.
According the the study, reporters and bloggers in these countries have been murdered and jailed - some targeted by their governments, others by militants or criminal gangs. Others have seen their relatives kidnapped or have been the victims of torture.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on President Barack Obama to reaffirm U.S. support for press rights. Noting that 14 journalists have been held without due process for long periods in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the CPJ says it has tarnished the U.S. reputation as a beacon for press freedom throughout the world.