THE NUMBER OF JOURNALISTS targeted for murder in reprisal for their reporting nearly doubled in 2018 from a year earlier, driving up the overall count of journalists killed on the job. At least 53 journalists were killed around the world between Jan. 1 and Dec. 14, 2018, of whom at least 34 were singled out for murder.
The Committee to Protect Journalists tracks three types of journalists’ deaths on the job: reprisal murders; deaths in combat or crossfire (11 last year, the lowest since 2011); and deaths on other dangerous assignments, such as covering protests that turn violent (eight last year). The total is up from 47 killed in all of last year, of whom 18 were pinpointed for murder. A total of 50 were killed in 2016.
The recent uptick in killings follows two years of decline, but comes as the jailing of journalists hits a sustained high adding up to a profound global crisis of press freedom. The context for the crisis is varied and complex, and closely tied to changes in technology that have allowed more people to practice journalism even as it has made journalists expendable to the political and criminal groups who once needed the news media to spread their message.
ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT FACTOR IS a lack of international leadership on journalists’ rights and safety. The most illustrative case is the brazen murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October by Saudi agents. Khashoggi had been strongly critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Ironically, the most vocal head of state in Khashoggi’s case has been Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government has effectively shut down the independent media and is jailing more journalists than any other around the world for the third consecutive year.
The White House, traditionally a strong defender of global press freedom, equivocated on the blame for Khashoggi’s murder despite, according to the Post, CIA conclusions that only the crown prince could have ordered such an operation. President Trump essentially signaled that countries that do enough business with the United States are free to murder journalists without consequence.
The state of Maryland was the site of the deadliest single attack on the media in recent U.S. history. On June 28, a gunman entered the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in the city of Annapolis and shot dead four journalists and a sales associate. The alleged killer, Jarrod Ramos, had issued repeated threats to the paper after a defamation lawsuit he filed against it in 2012 failed. Ramos faces five counts of first degree murder and other charges, and is scheduled to go on trial June 3, 2019, according to the Capital Gazette. The day after the massacre, Trump told reporters, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.” But within days, he had resumed his characteristic attacks on the press, calling the media “fake news” and journalists “enemies of the people” on social media and at rallies.
TRUMP’S BROADSIDES CAME AS the European Union grapples with its own crisis of journalist safety. Ján Kuciak, a 27 year old investigative reporter looking into corruption in Slovakia who was shot dead alongside his fiancée in February, was the second journalist murdered for his work in the bloc after Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a bomb placed on her car in October 2017.
The deadliest country for journalists in 2018, Afghanistan, is a mainstay on CPJ’s annual global Impunity Index, which spotlights places where journalists are regularly murdered and their killers go free. The 13 journalists killed in Afghanistan in 2018 were the most in any year since CPJ began keeping track including 2001, when the U.S. attacked the country and nine journalists were killed.
Journalists continue to die working in other war torn countries, such as Syria and Yemen, but the number of journalists killed in combat or crossfire fell to its lowest since 2011, as journalists’ access is diminished or the risks become too grave to bear, leading to self censorship, exile, or abandoning the work. In Syria, at least nine journalists were killed in 2018, compared with a high of 31 in 2012. In Yemen, three journalists were killed in 2018, and in Iraq, CPJ has not confirmed that any journalists were killed because of their work for the first time since 2012. Elsewhere in the Middle East, two Palestinian journalists were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while covering protests in the Gaza strip.
Other findings from CPJ’s research:
- Three women were killed, compared with eight in 2017. Historically, about 7 percent of journalists killed are women.
- Political groups, which includes extremists like Islamic State, were the most frequent suspected perpetrators, in 53 percent of cases.
- Politics was the most dangerous beat, covered by 62 percent of journalists killed.
- Broadcast reporter was the most dangerous job.
Elana Beiser is editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.