By: Jamey Keaten, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Killings of journalists surged to an eight-year high in 2003, with many of the 42 victims being gunned down, bombed or caught in crossfire during the Iraq war, a media advocacy group said Tuesday.
Last year’s total was the highest since 49 journalists died in 1995 — a time when reporters in Algeria were targeted in an Islamic insurgency, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report.
“The massive military deployment and the unprecedented scale of media coverage of the war in Iraq have a lot to do with it,” the group said in its report “2003, a Black Year.”
Fourteen of the journalists and media workers who died in 2003 were killed during the Iraq war and its aftermath, Reporters Without Borders said.
The Paris-based group blamed U.S. armed forces for the deaths of at least five journalists, adding that “in no case did they (the military) hold any investigation worthy of that name.”
In 2002, the group counted 25 journalists who were killed.
Meanwhile, arrests of journalists and censorship of the media rose to a record high last year, “undoubtedly linked to terrorism and to anti-terror laws adopted by some countries since the Sept. 11 attacks,” the group said.
Reporters Without Borders said at least 501 media outlets were censored, up from 389 in 2002, while at least 766 journalists were arrested — compared with 692 a year earlier.
At least 1,460 journalists were physically attacked or threatened, 40 more than the previous year.
The summary highlighted abuses in many countries, such as the jailing of top figures in Cuba’s independent press while world attention was focused on Iraq.
China was faulted for censorship over issues such as the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and for jailing “cyberdissidents” — people who criticize governments online.
Colombia was “one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists” because their killers often have “total impunity.” An average of four journalists have been killed each year in the South American country over the last decade, the group said.
Morocco was criticized for jailing two journalists in 2003, “setting back press freedom in the country by several years.” For example, publisher Ali Lmrabet was sentenced to three years in prison for his cartoons and an interview that “displeased” Moroccan King Mohammed VI, the group said.
Separately Tuesday, human rights group Amnesty International called for Lmrabet’s “immediate and unconditional release” ahead of a Wednesday court hearing.
Reporters Without Borders counted only journalists identifiable as working media, such as through their attire or press passes. Accidental deaths were not counted.
But the count includes press assistants, explaining why the number is slightly higher than that calculated by other media advocacy organizations.
On Friday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 36 journalists were killed worldwide in 2003, including 13 in Iraq.