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Media Rights Group: 44 Journalists Killed in 2010

Sri Lankan media rights activists shout slogans during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Media rights groups' members demanded the government to inquire into the attacks and killings of journalists and punish the culprits, January 18, 2011.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports 2010 was another mixed year for press freedom, saying that while international law and conventions guarantee the right to free expression, international institutions such as the United Nations and regional organizations have failed to robustly defend that right. The report also highlights the record high number of journalists imprisoned across the globe last year.

CPJ’s annual report, "Attacks on the Press", documents the killings of 44 reporters, editors and photojournalists and the detention of 145 others last year. The authors say that is the highest number imprisoned since 1996.

Nearly half those jailed were in Iran and China, with 34 jailed reporters each. Another group seeing prison time on the rise is bloggers, who account for nearly half of all those in jail. Pakistan was singled out for being the most dangerous country for a reporter to work.

CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz says at least eight were killed there last year. "Most of the journalists killed in Pakistan last year were caught either in crossfire or while covering bombings 'a secondary bomb at a terrorist attack.' And one or two were targeted. We have seen a very clear targeting already this year of a prominent reporter in Karachi. And what we are seeing is the violence from Afghanistan spilling over across the border and sort of incorporating Pakistan, Making it surprisingly for local journalists a more dangerous place than Afghanistan itself," he said.

But Iraq, which had previously been the most dangerous country for reporters in 2004 and 2005 when dozens were killed, has seen a dramatic improvement. The Committee to Protect Journalists says five reporters were killed there last year - its lowest number since the conflict began in 2003.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also saw improvement in Cuba, which released 17 jailed reporters in 2010. A result the organization said, of sustained and engaged advocacy that would not have happened without prolonged international attention to the issue.

"Attacks on the Press" also documents trends toward growing censorship in Latin America and China; retaliation against investigative reporters in Africa; and the use of anti-terrorism laws to suppress the dissemination of news and opinions in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report says that 90 percent of journalist murders will go unsolved, and among the murder victims, more than 60 percent had received threats in the week before they died. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for an end to impunity in such cases.

But the organization, which works to safeguard press freedoms worldwide, had criticism not just for individual governments for failing to protect and encourage a robust and free press, it said global institutions, such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the African Union, among others, had pursued only a ‘halfhearted, inconsistent approach’ to defending press freedoms.

CPJ Director Joel Simon, speaking at a news conference at the United Nations, singled out U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon for criticism, for among other things, failing to congratulate last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese human rights activist. Simon said the United Nations, and in particular the secretary-general, should be an outspoken advocate for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

"He has on occasion made positive public statements, but what we have not seen is a consistent approach to this issue. And consistency is very important, because it suggests a commitment to principle trumps political calculation, and that is what we would like to see," he said.

Mr. Ban’s spokesman rejected the criticism, saying the secretary-general has consistently spoken about the importance of press freedoms in both public settings and behind the scenes.