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Deadly decade for journalists, support staff

More than 1,000 journalists and their support staff have died in the past decade, with Iraq and Russia topping the list as the deadliest countries for the profession, according to a report released Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

More than 1,000 journalists and their support staff have died in the past decade, with Iraq and Russia topping the list as the deadliest countries for the profession, according to a report released Tuesday.

Most of those killed were men who died in their home countries. Nearly half were shot. Others were blown up, beaten to death, stabbed, tortured or decapitated.

The vast majority of those killed were on staff — 91 percent versus 9 percent freelance, according to the report from the Brussels-based International News Safety Institute.

Only one in eight deaths resulted in prosecution.

“This report breaks new ground in capturing how dangerous the pursuit of news has become,” said Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press.

“It also confirms how insignificant the efforts have been to achieve justice for journalists who are harmed or persecuted as they work to keep the world informed. We are at a perilous point in journalism: fair and accurate coverage is more necessary than ever but the risks to those who pursue it are greater than ever, too.”

The report came as detectives investigated the suspicious death of Ivan Safronov, a military correspondent for Russia’s top business daily Kommersant, who died Friday after falling out of a window in the stairwell of his Moscow apartment building. Colleagues suspect foul play.

'A great problem in Russia'
Russia was singled out in the report as a country with a growing list of slain journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot and killed outside her apartment last October while investigating abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya.

“I think we’ve got a great problem in Russia,” said Rodney Pinder, INSI director, at the release of the 80-page report. “We’ve got another journalist who died in mysterious circumstances a couple of days ago, and if we’re suspicious, who can blame us? Thirteen journalists have died in Russia since (President Vladimir) Putin came to power, and there hasn’t been a conviction.”

The situation is far graver in Iraq, where the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said 13 journalists and media assistants have been killed so far this year. In the latest deaths, the bullet-riddled body of Jamal al-Zubaidi was found Saturday in Baghdad days after he was kidnapped. Newspaper editor Mohan al-Dahir was fatally shot in the capital on Sunday.

“There is a culture of impunity in many countries,” said Richard Sambrook, global news director for the British Broadcasting Corp.

There were 138 deaths in Iraq in the past decade, while there were 88 in Russia and 72 in Colombia. Other deadly countries for journalists include the Philippines, Iran, India, Algeria, Mexico, Pakistan and the former republics of Yugoslavia, the report said. The U.S. had 21 journalist deaths in the past 10 years, including those caused by accidents on assignment.

The death toll for journalists also has been steadily rising in recent years.

Deadliest year was 2006
Last year was the deadliest year for journalists, with 167 deaths compared to 147 in 2005 and 117 in 2004. In 2001, there were 103 deaths; in 1996, 83 deaths.

The survey was conducted between January 1996 and June 2006 by the International News Safety Institute, a coalition of media organizations, press freedom groups, unions and humanitarian campaigners dedicated to the safety of journalists and media staff. The AP acted in an advisory capacity.

A large percentage of those killed appeared to have died in targeted attacks. Deaths included journalists and their translators, fixers, office staff and drivers.

“Increasingly journalists covering international conflicts are identified with their countries or are seen as ’either with us or against us,”’ the report said.

The report also criticized some news organizations who sent staff or freelancers into danger zones with inadequate equipment — such as bulletproof jackets or communications equipment — or training. Many journalists today are required to attend hostile environment training courses.

“Employers have a duty of care towards those they ask to work in hostile environments which requires a greater awareness of the risks,” the report said.

The report called on governments to prosecute journalists’ attackers, for development groups like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to consider countries’ records on journalist attacks when assessing aid allotments, and for governments to abide by a U.N. resolution that condemns attacks on journalists and their support staff.

It also called on militaries to recognize the right of news media to report during battle.

Pinder said getting governments and militaries to commit to protecting journalists has been an uphill battle.

“We have an inkling of an opening with the Pentagon but with others we have a long way to go,” he said.