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CAPSULE REPORT: Asia eclipses Middle East in violence against journalists, according to IPI's 2008 review

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI press release:

IPI Annual Review: Asia Eclipses Middle East in Violence Against Journalists

VIENNA, 4 February 2009 - Asia replaced the Middle East as the deadliest region for journalists last year, with 26 reporters, photographers and editors losing their lives in retaliation for their work or in civil conflicts, according to the International Press Institute's annual World Press Freedom Review.

Though more journalists were killed in Iraq than in any other country in 2008 for the sixth year in a row, Pakistan became the second deadliest place for journalists as chaos gripped the country's politics and conflict spread along the border with Afghanistan.

The annual report by IPI, which this year focuses on Asia, also shows that in many cases where journalists are murdered, the crimes are often never prosecuted.

"Impunity remains a contagion in the region, particularly in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, but the murderers of journalists are also escaping prosecution in leading democracies such as India," IPI Director David Dadge said in releasing the report. "Those who want to stifle free expression and frighten journalists into silence and self-censorship are succeeding because of impunity."

Elsewhere, journalists also died in high numbers in Mexico, Georgia and Russia, where increasingly brazen attacks unnerved a journalism community already accustomed to violence. Worldwide, 66 journalists were killed in 2008, down from 93 in 2007 and 100 in 2006, according to IPI's annual review.

"What united the many different incidents was a growing sense of resignation that little would be done to investigate and prosecute the killers," said Uta Melzer, editor of the World Press Freedom Review.

Other patterns in Asia suggested an increase in challenges often associated with the Middle East. Protecting religion from perceived criticism came before protecting speech not just in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but in Malaysia and Indonesia. Thailand continued to use lese-majeste laws to stifle criticism of the monarchy. The Internet, a favourite censorship target in the Middle East, saw growing interference from governments in China, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, security forces in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other nations used national security laws to intimidate and even terrorise journalists.

Globally, laws containing criminal penalties for defamation - whether involving the reputation of states, political leaders or individuals - were convenient legal tools to restrict news coverage.

"Criminal defamation is a scourge even in some of the world's leading democracies," Melzer said. "If countries in the European Union, for example, are to set a standard for the rest of the world, they need to decriminalise defamation."

IPI's World Press Freedom Review has been published for nearly 50 of the organisation's 58 years. This year's edition includes individual reports detailing press freedom developments in 30 Asian countries, as well as interviews and essays from local journalists. It also contains overviews addressing press freedom violations in all regions of the globe.

The World's Deadliest Places for Journalists in 2008

Iraq (14)
Pakistan (6)
India, Philippines, Mexico (5 each)
Georgia, Russia (4 each)
Thailand (3)
Somalia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Croatia (2 each)

(METHODOLOGY: IPI includes in its "Death Watch" journalists and media staff who were deliberately targeted because of their profession - either because of their investigative reporting or simply because they were journalists. IPI also includes journalists who were caught in the crossfire while covering dangerous assignments.)

The International Press Institute is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

A downloadable copy of the full report is available at http://www.freemedia.at/WPFR_2008.pdf

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