Last year may be deadliest ever for media, press group says
By QUENTIN WEBB
Reuters News Service
BRUSSELS -- Journalists suffered possibly their highest death toll in 2004, when at least 129 reporters and media staff were killed, more than a third of them in Iraq, an international press group said yesterday.
"By any standards, 2004 has been a bad year, perhaps the worst year ever, for the killing of journalists and media staff," the International Federation of Journalists said.
IFJ general secretary Aidan White said journalists' growing influence on public opinion meant they were more likely to be targeted by people who felt threatened by their reports.
"Some have been deliberately sought out by crooks and hired assassins. Others have been gunned down as a result of nervous, unruly and ill-disciplined soldiering," the report said.
The toll of 129 deaths was the highest annual figure recorded by the Brussels-based group.
In 1994, the IFJ reported 115 deaths, but later revised the tally to 157. The IFJ is investigating other deaths in 2004 and expects that toll to rise as well.
The figure includes deaths that were accidental, or where journalists were killed while bystanders. It also includes people who help journalists, such as drivers and translators.
Earlier in January, French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders estimated that at least 53 journalists died in 2004, but that figure appeared to use narrower criteria and did not include media assistants.
The IFJ said Iraq was the most deadly location, claiming the lives of 29 reporters and 18 media workers.
Iraq was followed by the Philippines, where 13 media staff died, including nine radio journalists slain for reporting on corruption, crime and drug trafficking.
IFJ's Mr. White, speaking at the launch of the annual report yesterday, said working conditions, particularly for local investigative reporters, are getting riskier.
Deaths in Nepal, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Nicaragua showed a rise in targeted killings, he said.
"These are not journalists who accidentally found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time; these are people who have been singled out for murder and assassination," he said.
Mr. White called on governments to make it a priority to open independent investigations into army killings of reporters, describing internal army probes as a "whitewash."
The report cited a Pentagon probe into the 2003 killing of Reuters cameraman Taras Protsiuk and Spanish television colleague Jose Couso at a Baghdad hotel as "unconvincing."
"[It] satisfied no one except, of course, the report's authors, who exonerated themselves of all responsibility."
The IFJ says it represents 500,000 journalists worldwide.
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