The agency's year-end analysis, which was released today, shows that the high number was a result of the election-related slaughter of more than 30 media workers in the Philippine province of Maguindanao, the deadliest event for the press in CPJ history.
The old record was 67 deaths, set in 2007, as voilence in Iraq was at its height.
In addition to the 68 recorded deaths, CPJ is continuing its investigation into 20 other journalist deaths worldwide to determine whether they were work-related.
“This has been a year of unprecedented devastation for the world’s media, but the violence also confirms long-term trends,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon on the agency's website. “Most of the victims were local reporters covering news in their own communities. The perpetrators assumed, based on precedent, that they would never be punished. Whether the killings are in Iraq or the Philippines, in Russia or Mexico, changing this assumption is the key to reducing the death toll.”
The Philippine massacre was devastating as 29 journalists and two support workers were among the 57 people brutally murdered in a November ambush motivated by political clan rivalries, the agency reported. It said that the deadliest prior event for the press came in Iraq in October 2006, when 11 employees of Al-Shaabiya television were killed in an attack on the station’s Baghdad studios.
The Maguindanao killings, while extreme, reflect the deep-seated climate of impunity in the Philippines, where long-term law enforcement and political failures have led to high numbers of journalist murders and low rates of convictions over two decades. For two years running, CPJ has identified the Philippines as one of the world’s worst nations in combating violence against the press.
“The killings in the Philippines are a shocking but not entirely surprising product of a long-term reality: The government has allowed unpunished violence against journalists, most of it politically motivated, to become part of the culture,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The Maguindanao massacre could serve as a turning point for the Philippines if its leaders can gather the political will to see that the perpetrators are brought to justice. If it is business as usual, we will continue to see journalists killed in the years to come.”
Already, CPJ and other press freedom groups are concerned about the integrity of the Maguindanao investigation. A report by four local press groups found that the crime scene had not been well preserved, that potential witnesses had been intimidated, and that the investigation was poorly coordinated. One law enforcement official told CPJ that he and his colleagues have insufficient resources and inadequate security to carry out the probe.
In other troubled areas, work-related deaths in Iraq are on the decrease: Four Iraqi journalists were killed during the year, the lowest annual tally since the war began in 2003.
Somalia was another matter.
But violence soared in Somalia, where nine local journalists were murdered or killed in combat situations. Throughout 2009, Al-Shabaab militants waged a terror campaign against the Somali press, murdering journalists and seizing news outlets. Among the victims was Said Tahlil Ahmed, director of the independent broadcaster HornAfrik, who was gunned down as he and other journalists were walking through Mogadishu’s Bakara Market to a press conference.
“The nine deaths in Somalia are a tremendous loss for the tiny band of journalists who risk their lives every day just by stepping out into the street,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney, who helps oversee CPJ advocacy in the region. “Their courageous reporting exposes them not just to crossfire and random violence but to targeted killing by Islamists who want to control the message.”
Four journalists were killed in Pakistan during the year, among them Musa Khankhel, a local television reporter known for his critical coverage. Abducted while covering a peace march in a militant-controlled area near the town of Matta, Khankel was tortured and then shot repeatedly.
As in past years, murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths in 2009. At least 50 journalists were targeted and slain in retaliation for their work, representing about three-quarters of the deaths in 2009. Eleven journalists were killed in crossfire while in combat situations, while seven died while covering dangerous assignments such as police raids or street protests.