IPI Tags 2018 ‘A Dark Year for Press Freedom’

Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of IPI
Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of IPI

The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) has described the year 2018 as “a dark year for press freedom” around the world adding that it sees growing movement to destroy press as an ‘institution of democracy’.

In a report, Death Watch, released on December 22, 2018 in Vienna, the Austrian capital, IPI said as many as 78njournalists were killed in 2018 and have remain mired in impunity. It noted that: “Around the world press freedom faced a litany of attacks in 2018, as political leaders unwilling to accept scrutiny increasingly jail, prosecute or undermine the credibility of critical journalists.”

‘Death Watch’ data for 2018 show that no less than 28 reporters and journalists were killed in targeted attacks, while 11 died covering armed conflict. It named Mexico and Afghanistan as the deadliest countries for journalists where overall, 13 journalists were killed in each of the two countries.

The report pointed out that impunity for crimes against journalists remained at a shockingly high level in 2018 citing Saudi Arabia which has refused to hold those responsible for the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi to account, and Slovak authorities that have yet to arrest the mastermind behind the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak in February.

Barbara Trionfi, IPI Executive Director noted: “There is a growing movement, including in countries once seen as guarantors of fundamental rights, aimed at destroying the press as an institution of democracy” she added: “This atmosphere of intolerance toward independent journalism is putting the lives and freedom of journalists at risk and threatening the public’s right to know.”

Ravi R. Prasad, IPI Head of Advocacy said “Governments around the world are dragging their feet in investigating murders of journalists”, adding “Investigations in a large number of cases are slow and tardy, due in many cases to a lack of political will to bring the killers and perpetrators to justice.”

The report noted that although there is a small decrease in the number of journalists killed compared to the previous year, 2018 however witnessed an overall decline in the state of press freedom worldwide amid a trend of increased harassment and intimidation of journalists and attacks on independent media.

The report documents 159 journalists held in prison and many more being prosecuted for doing their work, citing Turkey as the world’s top jailer of journalists. It said Turkey’s crackdown on independent media widened in 2018 with the arrests of 46 reporters, mostly on spurious terrorism-related charges.

Attacks on independent media worsened in Turkey, where most media outlets have been bought up by businesses close to the ruling AK Party, while in Hungary independent media are increasingly encircled by a state media machine and are starved of advertisement revenue.

The report also cited other countries where press freedom is receeding.

Myanmar convicted and sentenced two Reuters journalists for allegedly violating the Official Secrets Act while the Philippine government has sought to silence IPI Free Media Pioneer Rappler by charging founder Maria Ressa with tax evasion. It listed Bangladesh, Russia and Cambodia as just a few examples of countries that introduced controversial legislation on “fake news” and which threatens press freedom.

In Africa, security forces in Uganda and Zimbabwe were used to attack journalists, while editors and journalists have had to turn to self-censorship in Tanzania  as the government escalated its clampdown on critical media.

Egyptian failed to release award-winning photojournalist Shawkan despite a court order and also arbitrarily extended the detention of Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein, who has been detained for over 700 days without charges. The whereabouts of another noted journalist, Ismail Alexandrani, also remain unknown.

The International Press Institute (IPI) is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for media freedom. It has been compiling annual data on the killings of journalists since 1997 as part of its press freedom and safety of journalist programmes.