A global coalition against censorship is needed to protect online journalists and bloggers who are being targeted by repressive governments, a leading advocacy group said Tuesday.
At least 46 journalists died around the world in 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists said, an increase from the estimate it released in December. Seven journalists were killed in Pakistan, where 29 journalists have been killed in the past five years.
Freelancers, bloggers and citizen journalists like those reporting in the Middle East have few resources to defend themselves against censorship and attacks, the CPJ said. Authoritarian states are buying communications surveillance equipment from Western manufacturers and using it to monitor and target journalists and bloggers, the group said.
The report cited people in Syria who smuggled video footage to reporters across the world and were consequently tracked and tortured by government authorities after their Facebook accounts were hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, a government-sponsored hacking group.
The New York-based group said the number of deaths while covering dangerous assignments, such as street protests, reached the highest level since 1992. Most of the deaths were in the Middle East and North Africa, where 19 journalists died last year, most while covering the Arab world uprisings.
One third of those killed were freelance journalists, more than double the proportion that freelancers have constituted over the years.
Nine online journalists were killed for their work, including Mexican reporter Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, whose decapitated body was found with a note saying she had been killed for reporting news on social media websites. Her death was the ?rst documented by CPJ that was directly tied to journalism published on social media.
The committee found that 179 journalists were imprisoned as of Dec. 1, an increase driven by widespread imprisonment across the Middle East and North Africa. About half of those work primarily online, the committee said.
The highest number of jailed journalists was in Iran, where 42 reporters were behind bars.
While the Internet and social media has helped democratize the dissemination of information, the nature of such newsgathering leaves journalists especially vulnerable to censorship and retaliation, the CPJ said in its annual survey. There are few legal mechanisms to fight censorship on an international level, the group said.
The CPJ said governments, the business community and human rights organizations must urge intergovernmental groups to create a legal framework to adjudicate press freedom cases at the international level.
In 2010, CPJ hired its first Internet advocacy coordinator to act as a liaison between Silicon Valley and the journalists who depend on their products — "not only to get the news out, but also to protect them and their sources from physical harm," the report said.