LONDON – Seventy-eight journalists were killed last year in the course of their work, a survey by the Vienna-based International Press Institute shows.
The IPI 2004 review "Impunity Lives, While Journalists Die" published Tuesday also condemns the "overwhelming failure of the authorities in many parts of the world to properly investigate and prosecute the killers of journalists."
Last year was one of the worst since IPI first started keeping records in 1997, IPI Editor David Dadge told IPS. "The worst year was 1999 when 86 journalists died," he said. "The second worst, prior to 2004, was 2003 with 64 journalists killed."
Inevitably, Iraq saw the worst of it for journalists. "The ongoing Iraqi insurgency killed 23 journalists, and it remains the deadliest place in the world to practice journalism," the IPI report says.
Most of the journalists who died in Iraq were killed by Iraqi insurgent militants, the report says. "At least three journalists, but possibly many more, were killed by U.S. forces," the report says.
The report says the new freedom brought about by the invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces in 2003 comes "bitterly and grudgingly."
Of the rest, 27 journalists were killed in Asia and another 27 in the Middle East and North Africa region. Fifteen journalists were killed in the Americas, seven in Europe, and two in Africa, the IPI report says.
Although journalists died for a variety of reasons, the year saw the continuation of a worrying trend linking countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Belarus, Haiti, The Gambia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Ukraine, among many others, the report says. "Their shameful connection is the authorities’ failure to properly investigate and prosecute the killers of journalists."
The report points to the Philippines as a "prime example of this type of blanket impunity that smothers all attempts at investigation." Since the country gained independence in 1986, some 56 journalists have been killed, including 12 in 2004. "No one has ever been convicted of these killings," the report says.
With five journalists killed last year, Bangladesh is another country "where the authorities appear oblivious to the need to assert the rule of law."
In the Americas, four journalists died in Mexico, "where corruption and drug trafficking have made it almost impossible for journalists to carry out investigative reporting," the report says. "In Haiti, where one journalist was killed in 2004, government indifference has obscured the truth. There have also been no arrests in the cases of two Haitian journalists killed in 2000 and 2001."
The report points to Eastern Europe as another region of impunity. In Russia, with three killings in 2004, "there is a history of failed attempts to investigate journalists’ killings," the report says. "Belarus and the Ukraine are two other countries where authorities routinely mishandle cases involving journalists. Nearly five years on from the murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze, the authorities have yet to carry out an investigation to the satisfaction of the international community."
IPI director Johann P. Fritz said at the launch of the report that in many cases investigations into the deaths of journalists are "hampered by the failure to interview witnesses, the inability to follow leads, lost evidence, a desire to cover up, corruption, judicial partiality, inertia, or even plain apathy."
On other occasions, he said, "the government does not wish the perpetrators or the reason for the killing to come to light. This joins the authorities and the perpetrators in a common cause: to ensure that journalists are silenced and that embarrassing and uncomfortable information never reaches the public domain."
At a time when many countries "claim a democracy," their authorities should appreciate the damage caused by impunity and "ensure that those who commit the ultimate form of censorship are punished," said Fritz.
The breakdown by country of the journalists killed is: Bangladesh 5, Belarus 1, Brazil 3, Colombia 1, Cote d’Ivoire 1, Dominican Republic 1, Gambia 1, Haiti 1, India 3, Iraq 23, Kazakhstan 1, Mexico 4, Nepal 3, the Netherlands 1, Nicaragua 2, Pakistan 1, Palestine 2, Peru 2, Philippines 12, Russia 3, Saudi Arabia 1, Serbia and Montenegro 1, Sri Lanka 2, Ukraine 1, Venezuela 1, Yemen 1.