Journalist Killings Fall Sharply but Dangers Remain, Say Leading Press Watchdogs

The number of journalists killed globally in 2019 is the lowest in over a decade as some war zones became less deadly, say two of the world’s leading free-press advocacy groups.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Paris-headquartered Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is known by its French initials, released separate reports that identified the same trend on Tuesday.

Each of the annual reports, however, based findings on distinct research methodologies, resulting in some hard data discrepancies.

CPJ says at least 25 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2019, the lowest figure since 2002 when 21 journalists lost their lives in the field. RSF reported 49 killed, the lowest number since 36 were killed in 2003.

A Turkish police officer walks past a picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to a ceremony, near the Saudi…
FILE – A Turkish police officer walks past a picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to a ceremony, near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, marking the one-year anniversary of his death, Oct. 2, 2019.

Both organizations emphasized that although journalist war zone fatalities have declined, the number of journalists killed in countries at peace remains consistent with years prior, and that the decrease is no cause for complacency.

CPJ: Syria, Mexico are deadliest

CPJ logs killings only in direct reprisal for reporting combat-related crossfire, “or while carrying out a dangerous assignment such as covering a protest that turns violent.” Syria and Mexico are the deadliest for journalists in 2019, its report said.

“Deaths in Syria, where at least 134 journalists have been killed in the war, have declined since a high of 31 in 2012,” the CPJ report states.

“Even more striking, the subset of journalists singled out for murder, at least 10, is the smallest in CPJ’s annual records, which date to 1992,” the organization says, adding that half of those “singled out” for murder were killed in Mexico.

CPJ also reports that the decline comes amid “unprecedented global attention on the issue of impunity in journalist murders,” highlighting the October 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the October 2017 murder of Maltese investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia.

People hold pictures of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as they protest outside the office of the Maltese Prime…
FILE – People hold pictures of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was slain in October 2017, as they protest in Valletta, Malta, Nov. 29, 2019.

“One place where efforts to combat impunity seemingly have had no effect is Mexico,” the report said.

“The decline in the number of journalists killed is welcome after years of escalating violence, and reinforces our determination to fight impunity and do all we can to keep journalists safe,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

The report also says the Oct. 11 death of Turkish Kurdish journalist Vedat Erdemci, who died in a Turkish airstrike on the northeastern Syrian city of Ras al-Ain, represents the only foreign journalist killed in the line of duty this year.

CPJ’s report, which says military officials were the “most frequently suspected killers of journalists this year,” reflects the number of journalists killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 13, 2019.

RSF: Fewer killed, more behind bars

RSF’s “Worldwide Roundup of Journalists Killed, Detained, or Held Hostage” summarizes abusive treatment and deadly violence against “professional journalists, non-professional journalists and media workers.”

Like CPJ, RSF says journalism remains a “dangerous profession,” with 49 journalists killed this year, 389 currently imprisoned and 57 others being held hostage.

RSF’s data indicate that although most journalists were killed covering conflicts in Syria (10), Afghanistan (5), and Yemen (2) — compared with 34 last year — targeted assassinations in “at peace” nations such as Mexico (5) were alarmingly high.

“Latin America, with a total of 14 reporters killed across the continent, has become as deadly as the Middle East,” the report says.

“More and more journalists are being assassinated for their work in democratic countries, which is a real challenge to democracy,” said RSF director Christophe Deloire.

While fewer journalists are dying, more are ending up behind bars, RSF said. The 389 detained in 2019 represent a 12% increase since last year.

Nearly half of reporters imprisoned in state custody are in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China, which alone “holds a third of the journalists locked up in the world,” the report says.

Turkey currently has 25 journalists in prison.

Meanwhile, 57 journalists are being held hostage across the globe, mostly in Syria (30), Yemen (15), Iraq (11), and Ukraine (1).

RSF’s report reflects the number of journalists killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2019.

Information from AFP is included in this report.