Global Journalist Killings Increase By One-Third in 2020, New Report Finds

March 15, 2021Nolan Peterson
Demonstration outside Secretaria de Gobernación (Secretary of Governorship) against Mexican journalist Javier Valdez murdering, occured in Culiacán, Sinaloa on May 15th, 2017. Photo by ProtoplasmaKid via Wikimedia Commons.

Demonstration outside Secretaria de Gobernación (Secretary of Governorship) against Mexican journalist Javier Valdez murdering, occured in Culiacán, Sinaloa on May 15th, 2017. Photo by ProtoplasmaKid via Wikimedia Commons.

In 2020, some 65 journalists in 16 countries were killed by assassinations, bombings, or while caught in the crossfire while covering conflicts, the International Federation of Journalists found in a report released March 11. That number represents a 33% increase in journalist killings from the 49 recorded by the Belgium-based federation in 2019.

The leading cause of deaths was organized crime and sectarian violence, the report found, adding that the fatality rate among journalists is now on par with the 1990s. Some 2,680 journalists and media workers have been killed while on the job since 1990, the year the International Federation of Journalists began compiling data on media safety.

While combat deaths among journalists have reduced as the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine have cooled off over the past few years, the number of deaths due to organized crime — particularly in Mexico — has been on the rise. In short: journalists are less likely to die in combat cross-fire, but the threat of targeted assassinations is increasing.

“The ruthless reign of crime barons in Mexico, the violence of extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as the intolerance of hardliners in India and the Philippines have contributed to the continued bloodshed in the media,” International Federation of Journalists General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement.

According to the report, Mexico was the most dangerous country in the world for journalists last year with 14 killings — the fourth time in the last five years the country has claimed that ignominious ranking. With 10 journalist killings, Afghanistan came in second place. As of March 2021, some 229 journalists remain imprisoned for their work, the International Federation of Journalists reported.

“No democracy worthy of that name can jail messengers of freedom of expression. Every day, the IFJ works actively on the ground for the immediate and unconditional release of colleagues who are unjustly imprisoned,” Bellanger said in the International Federation of Journalists statement.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that at least 30 journalists around the world were murdered in 2020 — with 21 of those deaths comprising targeted murders related to the journalist’s work. Similar to the International Federation of Journalists’ findings, the Committee to Protect Journalists determined that criminal groups posed the greatest danger to journalists’ lives in 2020.

Meanwhile, combat-related deaths were on the decline. Apart from the waning violence of certain wars, the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult for journalists — especially less experienced, independent freelancers — to get to war zones in 2020, thereby contributing to the reduced number of combat-related deaths.

“While murders rose in 2020, the number of combat-related deaths — three — dropped to the lowest level since 2000, as the intensity of conflicts in the Middle East abated and the COVID-19 pandemic dominated media attention and made it difficult for journalists to travel,” the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on its website in December, adding: “Despite the reduction in crossfire-related killings, countries in conflict remain extremely dangerous for the media.”

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Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
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