An unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned in the past year, coupled with restrictive legislation and state censorship, is jeopardising independent reporting in many countries, according to a report issued today.
“Attacks on the press”, the yearly assessment of global press freedom released by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), makes for depressing reading.
It reveals a deteriorating environment for press freedom. In 2012, the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide reached a record high, a trend driven primarily by terrorism and other anti-state charges levied against critical reporters and editors.
CPJ identified 232 journalists behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since the organisation began its annual surveys in 1990.
Its research shows that over the past two decades, a journalist is killed in the line of duty once every eight days. Seventy journalists lost their lives in the line of duty in 2012, a 43% increase from 2011. More than 35 journalists have gone missing.
To determine growing threats, the 2013 edition of Attacks also features CPJ’s new “risk list”, which identifies the 10 places where the organisation documented the most significant downward trends during 2012. Those trends included:
* An exceedingly high fatality rate in Syria, where journalists face multiple risks from all sides in the conflict.
“When journalists are silenced, whether through violence or laws, we all stand to lose because perpetrators are able to obscure misdeeds, silence dissent, and disempower citizens,” said the CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney.
“The battle to control information is an assault on public accountability that cannot go unchallenged. Governments must prosecute perpetrators and stop those seeking to incapacitate public oversight by blunting critical and probing reporting.”
Mahoney continued: “The right to receive and impart information transcends borders, and international and regional bodies have a key role to play in upholding these principles, which are under attack.”
A UN plan to strengthen international efforts to fight impunity and increase journalist security around the world — which is being implemented with CPJ support — aims to create safer conditions for journalists around the world.
The plan and a five-year-old UN resolution that calls for the protection of journalists in conflict zones require full implementation in order to guarantee a free and safe press.
CPJ has called on UN member states to honour their commitment beyond training programmes, special appointments, and rhetoric, while UN agencies should adopt practices to bring coordinated rapid responses on the ground to the crises facing the press.
In the Attacks report, the CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon, writes:
“Today, even as technology fuels a global communications revolution, a range of governments are challenging the very concept of press freedom, arguing that it is not a universal right at all but must be adapted to national circumstances
The basic consensus supporting freedom of expression in international law is strong enough to push back firmly against autocratic leaders who seek legal and political cover for their restrictive policies.”