Record Number of Journalists Murdered Last Year
March 31, 2010
By Joseph Schuman
Late on the night of Jan. 7, Mexican newspaper reporter Valentin Valdés Espinosa was driving through downtown Saltillo in the north of the country when his car was intercepted by two SUVs. The men inside forced Valdés and a colleague into one of the SUVs and drove away.
The next morning, Valdés’ body was found at the nearby Motel Marbella. He had been tortured, bound and shot several times, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports. Valdés had recently been part of a team reporting for the local paper, the Zócalo de Saltillo, on a massive army raid at the motel and the drug cartel it targeted. A handwritten note with his body said, “This is going to happen to those who don’t understand. The message is for everyone.”
Valdés was the victim of a growing trend of violence against journalists far from the war zones once perceived as the biggest danger to reporters. Last year, according to a UNESCO report released today, a record number of journalists were killed worldwide.
There were 77 journalists murdered last year, up from 48 in 2008, and the killings of journalists are more often taking place in countries that are officially at peace.
“There is increasing evidence of acts of violence against media professionals in many parts of the world, in particular deliberate attacks by those who do not wish journalists to investigate and reveal information of public interest,” the UNESCO report said. “The killing of journalists is just the tip of the iceberg. Media professionals face many other forms of threats such as intimidation, kidnappings, harassment and physical assaults.”
While the numerical spike last year can mostly be attributed to an ambush in the Philippines that claimed the lives of 30 journalists in one day, the numbers also show that the killing of local journalists is on the rise even as the deaths of war correspondents has been abating in recent years and violence has subsided in Iraq.
At least 80 percent of the 125 murders of journalists in 2008 and 2009 targeted reporters who were trying to uncover and report “information of public interest,” UNESCO said.
At a time when newspapers have been declining in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, UNESCO also noted that print media continued to take a frontline role reporting from dangerous areas. Among the journalists murdered, just 26 percent worked for television, 16 percent for radio and only a few for news agencies and online sites.
Following the Philippines, Mexico had the biggest rise in journalist murders, with 11 in 2008 and 2009, largely due to the drug-related violence that claimed the life of Valdés. The number of journalists killed in Pakistan rose to six from just two in the previous two-year period, and journalist murders in Russia jumped to seven from three.