RSF round-up: these figures are alarming
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is releasing its annual round-up of violence and abuses against journalists throughout the world. A total of 65 journalists were killed in 2017, 326 are currently in prison, and 54 are held hostage.
The 65 journalists who were killed were either fatally injured in the course of their work (for example, in an artillery bombardment) or were murdered because their reporting angered someone. The murdered reporters were the majority – 60% of the total figure.
Although these figures are alarming, 2017 has been the least deadly year for professional journalists (50 killed) in 14 years. Journalists are of course fleeing countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya that have become too dangerous, but RSF has also observed a growing awareness of the need to protect journalists. The UN has passed several resolutions on the safety of journalists since 2006 and many news organizations have adopted safety procedures.
The fall does not apply to deaths of women journalists, which have doubled. Ten have been killed in 2017, as against five in 2016. Most of these victims were experienced and combative investigative reporters. Despite threats, they continued to investigate and expose cases of corruption. The victims include Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Gauri Lankesh in India and Miroslava Breach Velducea in Mexico.
In another noteworthy trend in 2017, some countries that are not at war have become almost as dangerous for journalists as war zones: 46% of the deaths occurred in countries where no overt war is taking place, as against 30% in 2016. There were almost as many deaths (11) in Mexico as in Syria, which was the deadliest country for journalists in 2017, with 12 killed.
"Investigative journalists working on major stories such as corruption and environmental scandals play a fundamental watchdog role and have become targets for those who are angered by their reporting," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "This alarming situation underlines the need to provide journalists with more protection at a time when both the challenges of news reporting and the dangers are becoming increasingly internationalized."
Like the death toll, the number of journalists in detention has also fallen. The total of 326 journalists in prison on 1 December 2017 was 6% fewer than on the same date in 2016. Despite the overall downward trend, there is an unusually high number of detained journalists in certain countries, such as Russia and Morocco, that did not previously number among notable jailers of journalists. Nonetheless, around half of the total number of imprisoned journalists are being held in just five countries. China and Turkey are still the world's two biggest prisons for journalists. They are followed by Syria, Iran, and Vietnam.
Finally, 54 journalists are currently held by armed non-state groups such as Islamic State and the Houthis in Yemen. Almost three quarters of these hostages come from the ranks of local journalists, who are usually paid little and often have to take enormous risks. The foreign journalists currently held hostage were all kidnapped in Syria but little is known about their present location.