Guest post by Nazarena Lomagno.
The NGO Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF, Reporters Without Borders) has recently published a report, ‘Worldwide Round-up of journalists killed, detained, held hostage, or missing in 2018’, and its findings are shocking.
Over the past year, 80 media professionals were murdered, 348 were arrested, and 60 were kidnapped and held hostage and three were disappeared. The report, which looks at the global situation of communicators who have been suffered these attacks in the direct practice of their profession, runs from January 1 to December 1, 2018.
The work of journalists is not easy. Even just their professional accreditation puts their lives at risk and turns the exercise of communicating into a deadly activity: according to the document, 61 per cent of the journalists who were killed were murdered or deliberately targeted due to the simple fact that their investigations focused on political, religious or criminal networks; while 39 per cent of those killed while reporting in the field, without being targeted as journalists. Of the 80 journalists murdered, 77 were men and three were women.
Since 2016 the numbers of murdered journalists had shown a downward trend, with a total of 63 professionals killed that year and 55 killed in 2017. In 2018 the trend was reversed and rose significantly.
According to the report, the geographical area where the profession is practised impacts significantly on the number of deaths. The most convincing evidence is in Afghanistan, involved in a permanent war conflict, which has registered the highest number of attacks on journalists: in this country 15 communication professionals were killed.
In the Asian area, Syria comes second with eleven murders, followed by Yemen with eight and India, with six. The United Nations (UN) has labelled Yemen as being amidst “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”. However, Reporters Without Borders reported one fact that offers hope: no journalist was killed in Iraq in 2018 for the first time since 2003.
The list of the six countries categorised as “most deadly” by the NGO is completed by the United States with six deaths and Mexico with nine, with the latter being the conflict-free territory where the highest number of deaths was registered for the investigation of local corruption politicians or drug trafficking.
Four of the 80 murders gained global attention, in particular the murder of the journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. The murder of Palestinian video-journalist and photographer Yasser Murtaja [pictured] was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while covering the Great Macrh of Return protests in the Gaza Strip on 6 April 2018, was also widely reported internationally.
In Europe, Slovakian anti-corruption journalist Ján Kuciak was murdered along with his partner, Martina Kušnírová, on 21 February 2018 after investigating corruption in local business and politics, including links between the Italian mafia and Slovak politicians. Bulgarian TV presenter Viktoria Marinova was raped, beaten and strangled to death after reporting the embezzlement of EU funds in which businessmen and politicians were involved.
As for the 348 journalists who were arrested in 2018 – a figure that increased by seven per cent year-on-year – more than half are in prison in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. Arbitrary detentions, the hardening of rules for publishing criteria, preventive imprisonment and life sentences are some examples of punishment for carrying out their profession.
The kidnapping of journalists is still a constant feature in Middle Eastern conflicts. Out of the 60 kidnapped professionals, 59 were registered in three countries in the region: Syria, Iraq and Yemen. For the armed groups operating in the conflict areas, this activity is a source of finance through ransoms, as well as a means to rule by terror. The list of journalists targeted for doing their job is completed by those who disappeared: two in Latin America and one in Russia.
Reporters Without Borders was created in France in 1985 in response to a global situation where journalists were restricted from doing their job, or targeted for their work. The NGO aimed to carry out several measures to protect and guarantee the safety of communication workers all over the world.
Among its most important achievements, the NGO persuaded the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, to created 14 journalist security coordination centres in UN agencies and institutions, which has been promoted by the #ProtectJournalists campaign launched in 2015. Reporters Without Borders has also proposed the International Declaration on Information and Democracy, based on guaranteeing the right to reliable information, recognising the importance of global communication and bringing together an international group of worldwide information and democracy experts.
Nazarena Lomagno is an Argentine journalist and researcher at the political economy department of the Cultural Centre for Cooperation in Buenos Aires.