Threat to journalists changing, says UN, after 57 deaths last year

Journalists were more likely to be killed in the last two years for exposing corruption or rights violations than while covering conflict zones, said a UN report Monday that highlighted a "worrying trend."

A total of 99 journalists were killed around the world in 2018 and 57 last year, according to the UN cultural agency UNESCO, which monitors media security as part of its role.

The 2019 number, it said, was the lowest annual toll in a decade, while the tally for 2018 and 2019 combined was 14% down from the preceding two-year period.

But while the numbers have declined, the nature of the threat has changed, the agency said in a report to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

"The figures show that while journalist killings in countries experiencing armed conflict have declined significantly, this has not been the case in countries free of armed conflict," said the UNESCO report.

"These countries registered the highest number of journalist killings in several years. This suggests a worrying trend whereby most journalists are now killed outside of armed conflict zones for covering corruption, human rights violations, environmental crimes, trafficking, and political wrongdoing."

The report expressed concern at the high level of impunity for crimes against journalists, with 9 out of 10 cases unpunished.

Mexico most dangerous country

It said the highest number of fatal attacks on members of the press in 2018 and 2019 were in the Latin America and Caribbean region – representing 31% of total killings worldwide.

The Asia Pacific region was in second place with 30%.

Mexico, where dozens of journalists have been killed while investigating drug cartels or corruption, topped the table in 2019 with 12 dead, ahead of Syria, which had 6.

The report said female journalists are particularly targeted, with attacks ranging from harassment, trolling and doxxing (publishing people's personal details online), to physical and sexual assault.

"Journalism remains a dangerous profession whose practitioners face many types of threats, violence, and harassment," said the report.

One journalist was killed somewhere in the world every 4 days over the past decade.

In a separate report, Reporters Without Borders said 32 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of 2020 alone. Last year, the number was 49.

The body known by its French acronym RSF urged UN chief Antonio Guterres to create a post for a special representative for the security of journalists.

The coronavirus epidemic, it added, has changed the nature of the threat for journalists.

"Fewer journalists have been killed, but there has been more pressure and abuses against journalists," said RSF head Christophe Deloire. "The threats are increasingly nuanced and much more difficult to combat." – Rappler.com