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Last year, fewer journalists were killed while doing their job than in recent years - but that should not be grounds for optimism, say IFEX members in their end of year reports.

According to its annual analysis, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recorded 41 journalists killed in direct connection to their work in 2008 - a drop from 65 in 2007. "While that's lower than the unprecedented numbers we saw over the last few years, by historical standards it's still very high," says CPJ. The lower death toll was due mainly to a sharp drop in deaths in Iraq, from 32 in 2007 to 11 last year, due to improved security conditions there, says CPJ. CPJ is still investigating further cases.

The 2008 death toll reflected a shift in global hot spots, as high numbers of deaths were reported in restive areas of Asia and the Caucasus, says CPJ. Watch CPJ's video tribute to the journalists who died in 2008: then read the report:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) counts 60 journalists killed in the line of duty. RSF tallies cases in which a link between the violation and the victim's work as a journalist is clearly established or very likely. But RSF says the fall in numbers of attacks on the traditional media does not mean the press freedom situation has improved - online repression is on the rise, with bloggers being imprisoned and websites being censored. RSF says cases of online censorship were recorded in 37 countries, with Syria (162 websites censored), China (93) and Iran (38) topping the list.

"The figures may be lower than last year's but this should not mask the fact that intimidation and censorship have become more widespread, including in the West, and the most authoritarian governments have been taking an even tougher line," says RSF. See:

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) records 68 journalists and other media workers killed last year. "Attacks on journalists throughout the world - by organised crime groups in Latin America, autocratic regimes in the Middle East, repressive governments in Africa and by combatants in war zones - pose serious threats to press freedom," said WAN in its report, with region-by-region details. See:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which compiles figures in cooperation with the International News Safety Institute (INSI), counts 109 journalists and media workers killed last year in 36 countries. IFJ includes all journalists killed because of their work as well as those killed in accident while on assignment or on their way to or from a story. According to IFJ, India's death toll also figured high on the list with 10 casualties, following a surge of attacks in insurgent-hit states in the country. See IFJ: and INSI:

Despite the range in numbers, all agree that even though the casualties have decreased, Iraq was once again the world's most dangerous country for the press. Many of the at least 11 journalists - all Iraqi nationals working for local Iraqi news outlets - were deliberately targeted.

The next three deadliest countries for the media were Pakistan with at least seven journalists killed for doing their work, the Philippines with six killed, and Mexico, with four murdered.

In the Americas, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) called 2008 "a year of contrasts." The year was marked on the one hand by violence and harassment of the media, including 13 journalists killed, and by the passing of constructive new laws on the other. IAPA blamed organised crime for the murders. IAPA notes "aggravation and threats" took place in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, while 26 journalists remain jailed in Cuba, many of them seriously ill. But the good news is that access to information improved in Chile, Guatemala, Uruguay and Nicaragua. See:

In Mexico journalists have increasingly become the target of drug traffickers and mobsters. According to WAN, 23 have been killed since 2000, and seven others have disappeared since 2005 - cementing Mexico's position as the most dangerous country in the Americas for the media, even surpassing Colombia. Like the Philippines, Mexico is among the worst in solving these murders: none of the killers of journalists murdered in Mexico this year have been brought to justice.

The fall in the death toll in Africa, say IFEX members, is a result of many journalists opting not to work, often turning to a less dangerous trade or going into exile. WAN reports that charges of defamation, sedition and "disrupting public order" work to intimidate and silence independent and opposition media. Those that choose to report on rebellions or criticise the authorities often end up in jail - the number of arrests is particularly high in Africa, says RSF.

Even in Europe and Central Asia, death threats against or prosecution of journalists reporting on conflict zones, war crimes and organised crime are common. Journalists are at risk in an increasingly volatile political situation in the Caucasus, where at least three journalists died in just five days of fighting between Georgian, Russian and local forces over the disputed region of South Ossetia, say the members.

Some IFEX members have also put out country-specific year-end analyses.

"2008 was not a bright year for press freedom in Indonesia," says the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), especially with a slew of criminal charges against journalists and, unsurprisingly, the introduction of new laws that criminalise press offences. Those who commit defamation via the Internet face up to six years in jail, for example. See:

Safety remains the biggest concern for journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, says Journalist in Danger (JED) in its 2008 annual report, "Ten years for press freedom: the situation of freedom of the press in Central Africa". JED says a decline in the number of attacks against the press is more likely attributable to censorship and self-censorship, rather than improvements to the country's press laws or the impunity that journalists' killers usually enjoy. See:

IFEX will continue to publish members' reports online as they are made available:

(Photo: Funeral of Shihab al-Tamimi, leader of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate who died from injuries suffered in a targeted shooting in Baghdad last year. Photo courtesy of CPJ)

(7 January 2009)

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