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87 Journalists and Media Staff Killed in 'Infamous Year' of Murder and Conflict

During 1999 more than 80 journalists and media staff were killed or murdered making it one of the worst years on record says the International Federation of Journalists and the International Press Institute.
"In a century of unremitting slaughter, 1999 has been an infamous year," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. "Once again it is journalists and those who work with them who are among the victims of murder, crime and conflict."

The 1999 list reveals a total of 87 deaths, of which 69 have been confirmed and 18 are still under investigation. Most of the victims were cut down in waves of violence in the Balkans, Russia and Sierra Leone. The 1999 Report reveals that 25 journalists and media workers died in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which 16 were victims of the NATO bombing of the Radio Television Serbia building in Belgrade in April.

"Particularly horrifying was the brutal assassination of Dnevni Telegraf Editor Slavko Curuvija," says the report, pointing out that the systematic oppression of independent media by the Belgrade regime of Slobodan Milosevic was not diminished by NATO's "misguided and reckless decision to target media" during the bombing campaign. Other victims included two German reporters and three journalists staying at the Chinese embassy when it was hit by NATO bombers.

But journalists and media have been targeted everywhere. In India, media came under fire in the violent exchanges on the disputed border with Kashmir and in Chechnya, Russian forces bombed and struck at Chechen media facilities in Grozny. "Journalists are being slaughtered at a time when the public need impartial information most: during times of war and conflict," said Johann P. Fritz, Director of the International Press Institute. Also noted were the horrifying deaths of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes and Indonesian journalist Agus Muliawan in East Timor, who died, according to an IFJ - NVJ investigation, at the hands of Indonesian Security Forces.

In Africa, the civil war in Sierra Leone claimed some 10 victims among the local community of journalists and an undeclared civil war in Colombia has claimed 6 victims says the Report.

"It is the second worst year on record," says the Report. "We end the century on a note of dismay. Despite much talk of ethical principles and human rights the struggle for press freedom remains a lofty ambition in many parts of the world."

The Report again highlights the problem of official reluctance to investigate killings and acts of violence against media. "There must be no impunity for the killers of journalists and media workers", Fritz said. The Report urged Governments to give proper priority to the investigation of these killings as the authorities currently do too little and in the process they give comfort to the enemies of democracy. Fritz also urged journalists themselves to also combat the killings. "Journalists are often murdered because someone, somewhere wants to keep a story quiet," he said. "If the killers learn that by killing a journalist the media will come together and give them more media attention, not less, they will become reluctant to resort to violence."

The crisis in Colombia has rekindled fears that Latin American journalists remain vulnerable to pressure from criminal gangs and political terrorists. "There is a fear that we are slipping back into the dark days of the early 1990s when the killing of journalists became almost a routine business for crooks and terror gangs," says the Report.

"Governments and media employers must put the safety of journalists and media staff to the top of the agenda. Too often, however, we see that working conditions are getting worse not better, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity within journalism," said Aidan White, who reaffirmed the IFJ's call for an international Code of Practice for media workers. "Journalists, employers and media unions must lead the way in setting standards for security," he said.

Further Information:

Aidan White, International Federation of Journalists: +32 2 223 22 65
Johann P. Fritz, International Press Institute: + 43 1 512 90 11

The IFJ is the world's largest organisation of journalists, representing more than 450,000 journalists in 101 countries.