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Journalist Group Urges Investigation of Media Killings

  • Roger Wilkison

A group representing journalists says governments have a responsibility to investigate the deaths of reporters and other media staff, whether they occur in combat zones like Iraq or in local circumstances. The International Federation of Journalists says investigations into the deaths of media personnel are often no more than what it calls a "whitewashing exercise."

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, which claims to represent more than 1.5 million journalists in more than 100 countries, says 2004 was the deadliest yet for reporters. Its latest report says 129 journalists and other media employees were killed last year, 49 of them in Iraq.

The federation's general-secretary, Aidan White, blames governments for failing to conduct thorough and credible investigations into journalists' deaths.

"Too often, we see that, when it comes to journalists, governments see their primary responsibility is to perform a public relations role of a few words of regret, a cursory investigation into the circumstances, but then to shrug their shoulders and to carry on as though, really, in the end, nothing substantial has happened," he said.

Mr. White is particularly critical of a U.S. military investigation into the death of two journalists at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel in April 2003 which was completed two months ago. He accuses the U.S. Army of exonerating itself despite finding that U.S. soldiers fired at the hotel while the battle for control of the Iraqi capital was still raging.

The risk of covering a war zone like Iraq has led the governments of France and Italy to warn their reporters to stay away from the country. A French reporter disappeared in Iraq earlier this month. Two other French journalists were freed in December after four months of captivity at the hands of Islamic militants.

But Mr. White says that, although killings of foreign correspondents often make headlines, most of the reporters who were killed in 2004 were working in their own countries.

"The victims of violence are not foreign correspondents," he said. "The victims of violence are local. These are not people stomping through the bush on behalf of global media networks. These are people doing their job in a locality."

Mr. White's group says 13 journalists were killed in the Philippines last year, followed by seven in India, and six in Brazil. Other countries where more than one reporter was murdered in 2004 are Bangladesh, Mexico, Colombia, Nepal, Russia and Sri Lanka.

Mr. White says they were targeted because they were investigating government officials, insurgent groups or criminal gangs in their communities. He says most of them were murdered with impunity and that governments have done little to bring their killers to justice.