IPI Records Decrease in Number of Journalists Killed in 2017, Warns of Persisting Impunity

John Yearwood, Chair of the IPI Executive Board
John Yearwood, Chair of the IPI Executive Board

The International Press Institute (IPI) last month recorded a decrease in 2017 in the annual tally of journalists who died around the world in connection with the work to its lowest level in nearly a decade but warned that impunity for crimes against journalists remained a scourge.

In a report released on December 19, 2017, IPI identified Mexico as the deadliest country for journalists in 2017 with at least 13 killed, saying it had edged out Iraq and Syria, from the top position.

The Vienna-based global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, added 81 names to its “Death Watch” for 2017 as at December 19, noting that the number was down from the 120 recorded in 2016.

IPI said 2017 marked the first time that its number of annual deaths fell below 100 since 2008, with the exception of 2014, when 99 journalists were recorded as having lost their lives during that year.

IPI Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi, welcomed the decrease while faulting governments’ failures to bring journalists’ killers to justice, and called such murders “an attack on the fundamental human right to share and receive information and on democracy itself”.

She said: “It’s a relief to see a drop in the number of annual deaths and we hope it marks an end to the overall global trend in recent decades of increasing deaths. Nevertheless, the brutal killings of so many journalists this year in Mexico and so many other countries tragically show how impunity for journalists’ killings begets more killing.”

Latin America and the Caribbean was identified as the deadliest region in 2017 for journalists with more than one quarter of the 81 journalists who died in connection with their work having lost their lives there.

IPI noted that all but one of the 24 journalists who died in the region appear to have been deliberately targeted for their work, a decrease from 2016, when some 28 journalists were similarly killed.

It observed that Mexico presented by far the worst picture, noting that despite government efforts to implement mechanisms to protect threatened journalists, efforts widely criticised for their ineffectiveness, at least 79 journalists have been killed amid a wave of violence unleashed following then-President Felipe Calderon’s initiation of a war on the country’s drug cartels in late 2006.

IPI said although it was able to link four of the 13 killings in Mexico in 2017 to journalists’ work, the other nine deaths remain unsolved.

Besides, it said, none of the cases have led to a conviction of those responsible for committing or masterminding the crimes.

Around the region, four journalists were reported to have been killed in Honduras, two in the Dominican Republic, two in Colombia, one in Guatemala, one in Peru and one in Brazil.

IPI said the Middle East and North Africa remained the second most-dangerous region in 2017, although the number of deaths dropped from 41 in 2016 to 23 in 2017. It recorded 11 journalists as having been killed in Iraq, nine in Syria and and three in Yemen and noted that the majority died while covering armed conflict or in explosions attributed to violent extremists.

IPI said Asia and the Pacific followed closely behind, with 19 journalists dead, three more than in 2016. It noted that 16 of those journalists appear to have been deliberately targeted with seven of them in India, six in the Philippines, two in Pakistan and one in the Maldives.

Two others were reported to have died in explosions in Afghanistan while on assignment and another was shot and killed covering political unrest in Bangladesh.

IPI said in sub-Saharan Africa, three journalists were killed in bombings in Somalia, with one of them targeted, while three journalists were gunned down in Nigeria.

It noted that all of the cases remain unsolved and that one journalist was killed covering armed conflict in South Sudan and another died on assignment in Ghana, bringing the total in the region to eight, up from four in 2016.

According the IPI, Europe saw the deaths of five journalists, two of which came, unusually, within the European Union (EU).

It said a Swedish journalist was allegedly killed in Denmark by an inventor after accompanying him aboard his homemade submarine to interview him, while a prominent muckraker in Malta was killed by a bomb placed in her car. Three other journalists were also reported to have died in Russia “under as-yet-murky circumstances”.

IPI said in North America, two journalists died in the United States: one in a news helicopter crash and the other from injuries suffered in 2013 when gunmen opened fire at a parade she was covering.

It also reported that 2017 saw an increase in the number of women journalists who died in the line of duty, from four in 2016 to 10 as at December 19, noting however, that tally is lower than 2015, when 16 women journalists lost their lives.

IPI said its Death Watch has tracked the deaths of journalists worldwide since 1997, including those deliberately targeted because of their profession, either because of their reporting or simply because they were journalists, as well as those who lost their lives while on assignment in order to reflect the full toll.

It added that since 2015, it has also included murders that remain under investigation if the totality of circumstances indicates that the journalist was likely targeted due to his or her work, saying the decision is a reflection of the impunity with which so many journalists’ murders increasingly are met, due either to an inability or unwillingness by some governments to fully investigate those crimes.

For example, IPI said, while some 49 journalists appear to have deliberately been targeted for death in 2017, the motives or identities of the killers remain unknown in two thirds of those cases, a ratio similar to that seen in 2016.