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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
Dangers grow for journalists
UN World Press Freedom Day, to be marked on Thursday, has an alarming message - that too many journalists are being killed for what they do. If truth is killed, the whole world will suffer, writes William Horsley, head of the Association of European Journalists in the UK.

Vigil in Istanbul for Hrant Dink, January 2007
The killing of journalist Hrant Dink shocked Turkey

"People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think."

Those were the words of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist shot dead by an unknown assassin in the lift of her Moscow apartment block on 7 October last year.

The killer was seen on a CCTV recording, wearing a baseball cap but not hiding his face.

Anna Politkovskaya was a fierce critic of President Putin's government, and had received many death threats. When she died she was working on an article alleging torture by special forces under the Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Press freedom is like the canary in the coalmine
Jennifer Windsor
Freedom House

As in the cases of a dozen other murders of prominent Russian journalists since 2000, the investigation into her killing has so far led nowhere.

On 19 January this year Hrant Dink, a well-known Armenian Turkish writer and journalist, was shot dead in a street in Istanbul.

He had received threats from Turkish nationalists for writing about the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in World War I, and been found guilty last year on a criminal charge of "insulting Turkishness".

Those deaths of famous journalists provoked an international storm.

And the kidnapping of the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza in March has again focussed attention on the grave threats to journalists in conflict zones.

But journalists are being killed, attacked or threatened in record numbers. Most acts of violence go unreported.

List of shame

In March, a study by the International News Safety Institute (Insi), a coalition of media organisations and human rights groups, said 1,000 journalists had been killed around the world in the past 10 years.

Alan Johnston
The BBC's Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza on 12 March

The most dangerous place was Iraq, with 138 killed. Russia came next, with 88 deaths.

Insi's director, Rodney Pinder, said: "In many countries, murder has become the easiest, cheapest and most effective way of silencing troublesome reporting."

On World Press Freedom Day this year, campaigners say the most deadly threat to media freedom is violence targeting journalists just because the things they may expose are unwelcome.

"Press Freedom suffered a continued global decline in 2006." That is the conclusion of this year's global survey by Freedom House, a New York-based campaigning group.

It rated Burma, Cuba, Libya and North Korea as the world's worst violators of media freedom. As a region, it says the Middle East and North Africa has the harshest restrictions.

And a new report by the independent Committee to Protect Journalists has published a "roll of dishonour" of places where it says press freedom has deteriorated over the past five years.

Ethiopia is at the top of the list: 18 journalists have reportedly been jailed there, and the CPJ says private newspapers are driven to exercise self-censorship.

Next come Gambia (where one newspaper editor was murdered), Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Morocco and Thailand.

Intolerance and rigid laws

The Council of Europe says journalists in several of its 46 member-states fear for their lives.

The Council's parliamentary assembly has protested about brutal attacks on journalists in Ukraine (where the journalist Georgiy Gongadze was found beheaded in the year 2000), as well as Azerbaijan and Moldova.

And Europe still suffers the effects of religious intolerance, which was seen in last year's uncontrolled protests against a set of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.

The Council of Europe condemns Iranian religious leaders for issuing "death decrees" against a Frenchman and two Azerbaijanis who wrote about Islam.

In the former Yugoslavia, too, journalists have been the targets of sectarian violence while investigating alleged war crimes, many years after the conflict ended.

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers raises the alarm over anti-terrorism laws which it says are stifling media freedom. Today it denounces many governments for failing to protect the press from their effects.

The association says state secrets laws have been used to convict journalists in Russia and China. In Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, too, journalists have faced trial for violating security laws.

Bad for everyone

And the media themselves are not immune from criticism.

In America, the networks and big news organisations are being asked: why did they fall for the Pentagon's false story about the heroism of Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq? And where was their proper scrutiny of the US government over the "war on terror"?

Commercial pressures have also brought new ownership monopolies and forced Western news companies to cut their foreign news staff.

That has boosted an exciting alternative, the blogosphere. The internet seems to promise unlimited access to information for people everywhere.

China and some other countries have moved quickly to curtail their people's ability to use it freely.

There is some good news for the embattled media.

Last December the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1738, requiring armies and governments to protect journalists like other civilians in war zones.

And the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is pressing its 55 member-states to live up to their promises.

Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media, challenged the Russian authorities over Anna Politkovskaya's murder, saying Moscow allowed a "climate of impunity" to develop which may have led her killers to believe they would go unpunished.

"Press freedom is like the canary in the coalmine," says Jennifer Windsor of Freedom House.

"Assaults on the media are inevitably followed by assaults on other democratic institutions."

Are you a journalist or photographer in one of the areas mentioned above? Have the risks you run in your work grown noticeably in recent years? Send us your comments using the form below. Your comments so far:

Is it really any surprise that the rise of right wing and fanatical religious governments around the world would be followed by the increased attack on and undermining of the press? When in history have dictators and theocrats been the friend of the free press? The very idea of a free press is a liberal idea.
Kenny, USA

How about in Sri Lanka? Up to now at least 60 Tamil journalists are killed and no one is interested. Even Sinhalese journalists are warned not to write anything against the government or the truth. Why don't you all publish a list of the countries and number of journalists killed by their government?
Ganesan Chitsabesan, London UK

Journalists in Manila, Philippines will be lighting candles and reading poems to honour the 51 journalists murdered in three years since our current president assumed power in 2001. Doesn't that make the Philippines a very dangerous place for journalists?
James, Manila, Philippines

It seems that there is a warped view of democracy in Europe and Russia in which journalists can report on what they like on condition that they have to satisfy a certain group of people who are actually intolerant of other people's views. This is becoming an increasing problem in Russia where you have to report only good things or be vulnerable to attack from pro-Kremlin activists or state-sponsored thugs in the guise of the paramilitary youth group - NASHI. However, there is a key difference between exposing corruption and having a different point of view on such topics and intervening in the private lives of famous people and business leaders.
Mark Dixey, Zürich/Moscow

Sadly enough, Ethiopia is losing the ground for the growth of press freedom and hopefully the window will open with painstaking struggle.
Abebe, Addis

I am a young broadcast journalist with one of the leading TV stations in Ghana, and although i do not report from any of the stated regions, i feel a bit uncomfortable with the thought of a fellow journalist being killed for what they trained and studied years to do! I have always dreamt of being in the eye of news worthy region to report to the world but now i really have jitters over the mere thought. It's about time they put measures in place to protect journalists. But then again, what can they do?
Nana Yaa Brago, Accra, Ghana

Harassment and veiled threats so far, no overt violence but continuous monitoring of my affairs, hence my reticence to reveal my name. I am reasonably well connected within the Kazakh elite community and therefore have some support. However people with similar connections to me have diappeared...
Withheld, Almaty, Kazakhstan

No mention of Afghanistan? At least two media workers were killed by the Taliban this year and several more have been threatened. Going to the frontlines is nearly impossible because of the threat of kidnappings, and security forces, including the US military block access, shoot at journalists and confiscate media cameras. Meanwhile the government and Parliament are trying to limit press freedoms. The risks have grown noticeably in the last three years.
Roya Aziz, Kabul, Afghanistan

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