French Group Says 31 Reporters Killed

By: Pamela Sampson, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Thirty-one reporters — eight of them covering the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan — died doing their work last year and 110 were in prison at year’s end, a Paris-based media watchdog said Thursday.

Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report that the severest challenges to press freedom occurred in countries with one-party regimes like Syria and Iraq, military dictatorships like Burma, and absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

The French report differed significantly from one in March by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists that put the number of journalists killed last year at 37, up from 24 the year before.

The committee also said the number of journalists in prison jumped nearly 50% — to 118 in 2001 from 81 the year before, reversing four years of steady decline.

The watchdog groups use different standards for listing journalists killed in the line of duty. For example, the CPJ report included two investigative journalists in the former Soviet Union. Authorities there never linked the reporters’ killings to their work, but CPJ investigations found evidence linking the deaths and the stories the reporters were covering.

Reporters Without Borders singled out China as the worst offender among single-party communist regimes.

While the number of reporter deaths tallied in the French report in 2001 was one less than in the previous year, it said 489 reporters were arrested for questioning last year, a 50% increase from 2000.

Attacks and threats rose 40% to 716, and the number of incidents in which newspapers were censured rose 28%, to 378 incidents.

The report said the “new nature of conflict” — with civilian or paramilitary combatants increasingly replacing regular armies — makes journalists’ jobs more dangerous.

The report also said some journalists working in the Palestinian territories had been targeted by Israeli troops.

Western democracies did not escape criticism. The report said that measures have been taken in the United States and Canada to challenge a journalist’s right not to reveal sources, while France and Germany were singled out for detaining and prosecuting journalists.

In the Philippines, meanwhile, a UNESCO-sponsored international media forum called on governments to stop restricting press freedom in the name of the war on terrorism and national security.

The 120 delegates, journalists and press-freedom activists from around the world, accused many governments — including those of the United States, Australia, Canada, England, Japan, and France — of restricting media freedoms under cover of national security.

The statement pointed to Washington’s request to U.S. television networks to forego broadcasting of videotaped statements from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden without first checking their content. U.S. officials said they feared the tapes might contain secret messages to terrorist followers.

The forum also expressed its concern over the recent arrests of three journalists in Zimbabwe.

The latest to be detained was Andrew Meldrum, a correspondent for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, who was arrested Wednesday. He was the seventh independent journalist to be arrested under restrictive access to information laws which have been enforced since March 22.

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