2004 – A Dark and Deadly Year for Media: Governments Must Act says IFJ

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IFJ Press Conference in Brussels - Hassen Fodha, UN Regional Information Centre (RUNIC); Julang Pujianto, Indonesian Embassy; Jacques Nancy, European Parliament; Aidan White, IFJ (left to right)©IFJ

After one of the worst years on record for the killing of journalists, the International Federation of Journalists today launched its annual report on media deaths with a renewed call for the United States and other governments to take seriously their responsibility to investigate media killings.

“Too often governments display a heartless and cruel indifference to the suffering endured by the victims and their families,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Too often so-called investigations into the killings of our colleagues are merely a whitewashing exercise.”

The IFJ, which today said 129 journalists and media employees were killed last year, the worst 12-month toll on record.

“Behind each tragic death is a story of widespread intimidation and violence against journalists being carried out on a scale never seen before,” said White. “We honour each of those who have died, from the dedicated and courageous correspondents to the support staff who make up the media team.”

In a wide-ranging report that covers media deaths in 34 countries, the IFJ has attacked the impunity and injustice in the way governments respond to media deaths.

“There tends to be a few meaningless words of regret, a cursory inquiry and a shrug of indifference,” said White. “It is inexcusable in an age when the world relies more than ever on media to tell the story that many governments fail to bring the killers of journalists to justice or excuse themselves when their own people are involved.”

The IFJ says that the investigation by the US government into the killing of two journalists at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8 2003, which was issued last November, was a tragic example. “Here was an incident where soldiers fired on media in broad daylight, yet the military exonerate themselves and fail to take responsibility. It is denial of justice on a shocking scale.”

The IFJ says that the unexplained killing of media staff and journalists in Iraq, involving 12 of the 69 violent deaths since the war began, shows why new international rules are needed to force independent investigations of media killings. The Federation plans a worldwide protest over the failure of the US to carry out such inquiries on April 8th – the second anniversary of the Palestine Hotel attack.

The IFJ report also highlights a similar ambivalence among political leaders in the Ukraine where the Federation has been pressing the authorities to come clean over the case of journalist Gyorgy Gongadze brutally murdered more than four years ago by anonymous killers linked to the authorities in the Ukraine.

The IFJ report, which carries a special focus on how the Asian Tsunami disaster hit media in the affected areas, also criticises the government of the Philippines, where 13 journalists died last year. There were only two serious investigations and these failed to lead to any prosecutions. The IFJ further criticised official proposals from Manila to arm journalists in a bid to counter the targeting of reporters, particular those working for local radio.

“It is a sorry tale of incompetence and lack of political will, made worse by the absurd notion that journalists can only protect themselves by taking up guns,” said White. “This is precisely the sort of abdication of governmental responsibility that will only make life even more dangerous for journalists.”

Despite graphic evidence of a deteriorating situation for journalists in many areas, the IFJ also provides some evidence of a new determination within media and journalism to confront the crisis.

Almost 30,000 Euro has been donated from the IFJ’s International Safety Fund to the victims of violence and their families. “This is real solidarity from journalist to journalist and we are going to need much more of it in the years to come,” said White.

The IFJ also welcomed the news that, at the year’s end, the International Safety Institute opened up safety offices in Latin America and Africa with new offices to open in Asia and the Middle East before the end of the month.

“The INSI is a response from within the media industry to the safety crisis,” said White. “It is a practical and determined effort involving media organisations and employees to reduce the risks we face and to put pressure on governments to deliver on their responsibilities. Every journalist’s union and every media employer should add their weight to this effort.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries