Wars, elections main threats to reporters in 2009

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2009 6:45 PM

2009 was one of the most dangerous years on record for journalists, especially those covering wars and elections, including the largest massacre of media workers ever killed in one day, watchdog groups say.

Reporters Without Borders said 76 journalists were killed in 2009 _ 30 of them in a single incident, covering an election on the Philippines' Mindanao Island.

According to another watchdog group, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, 137 journalists and media personnel were killed in 2009, making the year one of the worst on record for the deliberate killing of reporters and other media staff.

Reporters Without Borders counts only journalists and bloggers, while the Brussels-based group also counts other media staff such as interpreters and drivers.

"Journalists are being seen as targets," said Sam Trudeau, a New York representative for Reporters Without Borders. "Before, there was an unspoken immunity.

"Now, the freedom to be an independent observer doesn't exist anymore."

Trudeau said covering elections has also gotten more dangerous as information coming out of a country online and through other channels just hours after polls close can lead to increased international pressure over contested elections.

Reporters Without Borders says the 2009 killings represented a 26 percent increase over 2008 when it recorded 60 journalists killed.

The IFJ's 2009 death toll of 137 compares with its tallies of 109 in 2008 and 175 in 2007.

"Last year's drop in the murder rate of journalists has been short-lived," IFJ President Jim Boumelha said in the statement.

According to Reporters Without Borders, other forms of violence, including physical assaults and threats, rose one-third to 1,456 cases in 2009, up from 929 cases in 2008.

Bloggers were also increasingly targeted in 2009, when social media sites became increasingly important sources of information in countries where traditional media is censured or state-run.

According to Reporters Without Borders, arrests of bloggers and so-called cyber-dissidents rose to 141 cases in 2009 from 59 a year ago.

"No one should be surprised that, as bloggers and Web sites continue to flourish, censorship and repression have surged proportionally," the report said.

About 44 journalists were imprisoned in Iran after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a number of press photographers fled across the Turkish border to escape arrest, the group said.

And journalists in Iran who remain free or were released after arrest are under surveillance, Trudeau said.

Kidnappings continued to rise among journalists, with most cases reported in Afghanistan, Mexico and Somalia. Thirty-three kidnappings of journalists were reported in 2009 compared with 29 the year before.

This month, another journalism advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, reported that at least 68 journalists were killed in 2009, a 60 percent increase over 2008, when 42 deaths were recorded.

Reporters Without Borders is a Paris-based non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press.

The IFJ represents more 600,000 journalists in 125 countries. Its full report on 2009 media deaths will be published in mid-January.