If it seems like journalists around the world are increasingly under fire, in jail or dying for doing their jobs, that’s because they are. From China to Egypt, to Somalia and the Philippines, more journalists died in 2009 than in any year since the Committee to Protect Journalists began tracking numbers.
Seventy-one journalists worldwide lost their lives, according to the CPJ, with the Philippines, Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan seeing the most journalists killed on their soil in 2009.
A further 136 journalists are currently imprisoned around the world, with China and Iran holding the highest number behind bars. The CPJ also noted that Iran continued a crackdown against journalists — responsible for a large jump in the number imprisoned — after the organization had completed its 2009 survey.
The rise in threats to journalists can broadly be tied to two factors. First, with Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones commanding global attention, a large number of journalists have taken on great personal risk, traveling alone into dangerous environments or alongside military forces in search of stories. Either strategy carries its own set of risks.
Second, the proliferation of Internet use across the globe has allowed journalists, bloggers and activists in repressive environments to reach a global audience. While this ability to communicate on such a broad scale has attracted more voices, it has also attracted the ire of governments intent on silencing online critics and tightly managing cyberspace with censorship programs.
The International Press Institute also released its’ World Press Freedom Review for 2009 this month, with dire warnings about the proliferation of targeted attacks — including murders — against journalists, and the impunity with which such crimes are committed around the world. The IPI put the number of journalists killed in 2009 at 110, and 735 for the period from 2000 to 2009.
While the numbers offered by the two reports vary, the trend is clear: Journalists are dying in greater numbers than ever before, as the expanded space for free speech changes the way news is delivered — and how governments respond.