2006 Worst Year Ever for Death of Journalists, Group Claims

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The year 2006 was the deadliest for journalists and media workers worldwide, with at least 155 murders and unexplained deaths, the International Federation of Journalists announced Sunday.

The group representing over half a million journalists in more than 100 countries said in its annual report that Iraq continued to stand out as the most dangerous place to work, with 68 media staff killed, bringing the total since the war began in March 2003 to 170.

The IFJ also pointed to continuing attacks on journalists in Latin America, where 37 media staff were killed. Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela stood out.

Thirteen journalists died in the Philippines, pushing the total of deaths in Asia up to 34, the IFJ said.

“2006 was the worst year on record, a year of targeting, brutality and continued impunity in the killing of journalists,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White.

“Media have become more powerful and journalism has become more dangerous,” he added in a statement.

The IFJ counts among the deaths all people who were employed by media organizations and died performing their duties, be they journalists, photographers, interpreters or drivers.

Other press freedom groups use more restrictive criteria.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in an annual report released Sunday that 2006 was the deadliest year for journalists since 1994, with 81 journalists and 32 media assistants killed. A dozen years ago ? the year of the Rwanda genocide ? it counted 103 reporters killed.

For the fourth consecutive year, Iraq was the world’s deadliest nation for media professionals, with 64 journalists and media assistants killed, up from 29 in 2005, the group said.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, another group using stricter definitions, said earlier this month 32 journalists were killed in Iraq in 2006.

The IFJ said that on top of the murders and unexplained deaths, 22 media workers were killed accidentally while on duty, pushing the overall total to 177. The combined total for 2005 stood at 154 in 2005, the year in which 48 Iranian journalists were killed in a plane crash.

Amid the bleak statistics, the IFJ saw a hopeful development when the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Dec. 23 condemning all attacks targeting journalists in armed conflicts and urging combatants to stop singling out members of the media and respect their professional independence.

The resolution was the first by the U.N.’s most powerful body dealing specifically with journalists in armed conflict. “It is long overdue,” said White. “We want to see action against countries that allow impunity in the killing of journalists.”

“This was the only bright spot in a year of unremitting gloom,” he added.

One of the most recent casualties was Aswan Ahmed Lutfallah, 35, an Associated Press Television cameraman. He was shot dead by insurgents who saw him recording their firefight with police in the northern Iraq city of Mosul on Dec. 12. A police official said they shot Lutfallah five times and stole his equipment.

The IFJ also pointed to the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow, the latest in a string of murders of journalists in Russia. The IFJ said more than 200 journalists had been killed in Russia since 1993 and said that 40 of the murders since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 had yet to be satisfactorily resolved.

Reporters Without Borders also said at least 56 reporters in a dozen countries were kidnapped in 2006. Iraq led the ranking, with 17 journalists seized. The Palestinian territories, where 6 were kidnapped, came in second.

“All those seized in the Palestinian Territories were freed, but six in Iraq were executed by their captors,” the group said.

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