An independent media watchdog group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, says press freedom was under siege in every corner of the globe last year. The CPJ says Iraq remained the most dangerous place in the world to work as a journalist in 2004.

In its annual report, entitled "Attacks on the Press," the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 56 journalists were killed worldwide last year as a direct result of their work.

Nowhere, the report said, was more dangerous than Iraq, where violence helped make 2004 the deadliest year in a decade for journalists.

Ann Cooper, the executive director of CPJ, says at least 23 journalists and 16 media support workers were killed in Iraq last year. She says another 22 journalists were abducted while trying to report on the Iraq conflict.

"Many of you will recall the words of a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote last September that the level of danger kept journalists so confined in Baghdad, that as she put it, 'it was like trying to report while being under house arrest,'" she said.

The CPJ report says 122 journalists were imprisoned in 2004, three-quarters of them in just four countries - China, Burma, Eritrea, and Cuba.

Another disturbing trend was documented in the Philippines, where eight journalists were murdered last year, allegedly for criticizing the government or reporting on corruption.

But the CPJ report also highlights some significant achievements, including an improving media climate in Ukraine, where a pro-Western government was recently elected. Ms. Cooper says the country sets a strong example for other nations, particularly Russia, where she said journalistic repression has been on the rise.

"Eleven journalists have been killed in contract-style killing since President Vladimir Putin came to power. So far, no one had been punished for those crimes. It is a shameful record for Russia's government," she said.

The CPJ report singles out Iran for its repression of Internet reporters and bloggers. It also cites Venezuela and Vietnam for harsh media laws and censorship.

Zimbabwe was named one of the world's worst places to be a journalist because of the government's continued crackdown on private media. And Bangladesh was found to be the most dangerous county in South Asia for the media.

Ms. Cooper says the CPJ and other media watchdogs are an important advocacy tool, but she says journalists must not be alone in demanding protection of the press.  Governments that cherish freedom and democracy must send a clear message to repressive regimes all over the world. That message is that government officials must tolerate scrutiny and criticism from the press," she says.

The CPJ says journalists must be able to accurately and freely report the news without fear of reprisal.