RECORD YEAR FOR NEWS MEDIA DEAD
Brussels, 2 January (INSI) - The year 2005 was the worst on record for news media deaths around the world, largely due to a tragic plan crash in Iran, according to figures compiled by the International News Safety Institute.
Forty-eight journalists and support staff died when an Air Force Hercules transport taking journalists, cameramen and photographers to cover military exercises in the Gulf hit an apartment block in Tehran and burst into flames. At least 22 people were killed on the ground.
The accident -- the biggest disaster of its kind in the news business -- hiked the news media death toll for the year to 146 in 28 countries, by far the worst annual toll recorded by INSI. It outstripped the 117 dead in 2004, itself the worst year in a decade.
Elsewhere, around the globe, 98 journalists and critical support staff died on duty, a third of them in Iraq, the bloodiest conflict for the news media in modern times.
Thirty-six were killed in Iraq during the year, carrying the total of news media deaths since the war began in March 2003 to 100. Most of the victims were Iraqis trying to practice their newfound "press freedom".
"These two tragedies -- an appalling air crash and a prolongued conflict -- remind us of the daily risks undertaken by journalists and their support staff in order to keep the world informed," said INSI Director Rodney Pinder.
"The unsung bravery of so many journalists in so many countries continues to deny the cynics who seek to belittle their profession and diminish their dedication to keeping us informed."
Most of the journalists died violently - at least 68 by gunfire, 7 by bombs, three by beatings and two, in Iraq, reportedly beheaded. More than 70 of the dead may have been targeted because of their work. Others died in crossfire or other random incidents of violence.
Not all circumstances surrounding the killings were clear, as many countries failed to hold proper investigations. Impunity for the killers is widely regarded as one of the underlying causes of the continuing unacceptably high death toll of journalists worldwide.
"In many countries the bullet or the bomb is a cheap and relatively risk-free way of silencing troublesome reporting," said Pinder. "Lack of proper inquiries by the authorities and absence of punishment of the perpetrators encourages more killings and intimidates other journalists into silence.
"It is high time the international community -- especially democracies whose freedoms depend on freedom of information -- took notice of this and moved to protect threatened journalists and punish their killers."
INSI is conducting a global inquiry into journalist deaths in order to more precisely determine causes and present a case for action by governments and world bodies.
Fifty-seven news media staff died in accidents, including the Iran crash, and one died of poor health, aggravated by being held in custody.
Outside Iraq and Iran, the deadliest country for journalists was the Philippines, where 10 journalists were murdered.
Other black spots were Sri Lanka and Pakistan with four dead each and Colombia, Haiti, Brazil, Afghanistan and Mexico, with three. Most appeared to have been targeted. Three also died in India, in road accidents.
Somalia, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Indonesia, Russia and Guinea Bissau each recorded two deaths. Ecuador, Libya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, Belarus, Democratic Republic of Congo and China suffered one each.
The year was only 11 days old when Julio Hernando Palacio Sanchez, a popular and controversial radio journalist in Colombia, was gunned down by two unidentified men on motorbikes. He had survived an attempt on his life in 1996. His murder struck more fear into the hearts of colleagues in Colombia's eastern city of Cúcuta, where attacks on the media go unpunished.
A snapshot of the 2005 news media roll of honour:
- Somalia - BBC reporter Kate Peyton, shot by a sniper after arriving on an assignment in Mogadishu
- Iraq - Raiedah Mohammed Wageh Wazan, a news presenter for U.S.-funded Nineveh TV, shot four times in the head after being kidnapped by masked gunmen
- Philippines - Columnist Marlenee Garcia Ezperat, renowned for her hard-hitting commentaries, gunned down in front of her children
- Mexico - Raul Gibb Guerrero, shot by four unidentified gunmen. Authorities believe he was murdered for writing articles about the Gulf Cartel, a powerful drug gang
- Ecuador - Photographer Julio Augusto Garcia Romero died from inhaling tear gas while covering a demonstration.
- Lebanon - Samir Qasir, a prominent columnist who had written angry articles against the pro-Syrian regime, blown up by a bomb placed under his car.
- Brazil - Jose Candido Amorim Pinto, presenter of a radio programme that criticised corruption, gunned down as he parked his car. He had been receiving death threats for almost six months.
- Nicaragua - Rony Adolfo Olivas, who had written extensively about drug trafficking despite many threats, shot dead.
- Indonesia - Reporter Erman Tasrial, on assignment, killed in a helicopter crash with five army officers.
- Libya - Daif Al Ghazal, who had written articles critical of the regime, kidnapped and tortured. His body had multiple bruises and stab wounds and a bullet in the head.
- Azerbaijan - Alim Kazimli, a veteran reporter for the main opposition daily, died as a result of a beating he received at a police station that left him paralysed.
- Russia - Pavel Makeev, a young cameraman, died after filing a report on illegal dragster racing. Police said his body appeared to have been dragged along a road.
A full list of fatalities and circumstances is on the INSI website:
INSI records all deaths of journalists and support workers, such as drivers, fixers and translators, whether staff or freelance, who died during newsgathering activities or when their news organisation was targeted because of its business. As INSI is a safety organisation, all causes of death are included, whether deliberate or accidental.
INSI, formed in 2003, would like to thank the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for access to its statistics compiled since 1990.
For further information please contact Rodney Pinder, Director, in London, firstname.lastname@example.org on +44 7734 709 267 (mobile) or Sarah de Jong, Deputy Director, in Brussels, email@example.com or + 32 2 235 22 01 or +32 497 70 76 85 (mob).