Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Journalist deaths hit record in 2005

By Sebastian Alison

BRUSSELS, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A record number of media staff died last year in the course of their work, as a trend towards the targeted assassination of journalists intensified, the International Federation of Journalists said on Monday.

At least 89 journalists were deliberately murdered because of their professional work, the IFJ said, out of a total of 150 media deaths in 2005.

"The numbers are staggering," IFJ general secretary Aidan White said in an annual report, "Targeting and tragedy - journalists and media staff killed in 2005".

"It was an unprecedented year ... the IFJ has counted 89 who were killed in the line of duty, singled out for their professional work. In 2005 the trend towards targeted assassination of editorial staff has intensified."

The largest number of targeted killings, 38, was recorded in the Middle East, including 35 in Iraq alone, making the region "by far the world's most deadly beat for reporters in the field," the report said.

"Most of those who died were local, many of them working for international media outlets in Iraq where the streets are too dangerous for foreigners to tread."

On top of the 35 targeted killings in Iraq, the report noted that another five journalists were killed there by U.S. troops -- including Reuters soundman Waleed Khaled, shot in the face and chest by U.S. military forces on Aug. 28.

This brings to 18 the number of reporters and media staff killed "at the hands of occupation forces since 2003 and reinforcing calls led by the IFJ for independent investigations into these deaths to eliminate suspicions of targeting," the report said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines was the most dangerous country for journalists, with 10 killed -- almost all victims of murder and targeted assassination -- while another 12 were killed in Colombia, Haiti, Mexico and Brazil.

At least 61 deaths of media workers in 2005 were the results of accidents rather than deliberate killings, the report said, of which by far the worst was the Dec. 6 crash of a military aircraft in Tehran in which 48 journalists and media staff died.

"The continuing high level of media deaths cries out for more action," the IFJ report said, adding that it had launched a campaign urging the United Nations to force governments to pay more attention to the safety of journalists.

"This campaign will continue into 2006."

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