It’s a dangerous world for journalists

On November 23 2009, in the politically fractured southern Philippine island of Mindanao, a convoy of political activists and journalists were stopped by approximately 100 armed militia members. Forced out of their cars, they were led to a remote clearing with two freshly dug pits and summarily shot. The so called Maguindanao massacre took a total of 57 lives and included 29 journalists and 2 media support workers. It was the single largest murder of journalist ever recorded by Committee to Protect Journalists and marks a particularly dangerous year for the media professionals around the world.

For many journalists, a degree of risk is part of the profession. Good reporters are after the truth and, in politically tumultuous environments, the truth is not simply hard to find but can be dangerous. Probing the faults of politicians, questioning militaries or militants, and filming frontline conflicts all raise the spectre of violent retribution.

2009 highlighted a particularly dangerous year for the media with
71 journalists being murdered. The Maguindanao massacre gave the Philippines the dubious distinction of having the highest number of journalists murdered with a staggering 33 reporters killed. The Philippines was followed by Somalia with 9 killed, Iraq and Pakistan both at 4, followed by Russian with 3.

While the yearly statistics garner headlines, violence against journalists is a long-running problem around the world. Take Sri Lanka for example. The 26-year civil war, which recently witnessed the military defeat of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, has fostered a dangerous environment for the press. Since 1992, 10 journalists have been murdered while there have been no convictions for their deaths. Effectively, a culture of impunity has emerged in which attacks against the press are conducted with scant concern for legal repercussions.

Yet the list of governments which are hostile to the press is a long one. Recent controversial elections in Iran has seen a systematic attack on the press with 47 journalists in detention and non-state media effectively being made illegal. The acquittal of suspects in the notorious murder of prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya remains a serious indicator of the dangers of practicing journalism in Russia. And the Chinese government continues to demonstrate an entrenched hostility to media with at least 24 journalists imprisoned. These are just the highlights in a long list of countries which demonstrate hostility to press freedom.

While journalists associations like the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists continue to provide detailed reports on specific countries in an effort to “name and shame” the perpetrators of violence, the reports also offer great insight for travellers. The manner in which a country respects a free press and protects journalists will be a reflection of that country’s respect for human rights. And a country’s respect for human rights is often a reflection of how safe or how dangerous a country is.

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