The number of media professionals killed or imprisoned has risen this year. China and Iran are the most dangerous countries and women are the most at risk. And the war in Ukraine has added a new dimension.
The number of journalists killed in 2022 up to December 1 was 20% higher than in the same period last year, reversing a two-year downward trend, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Russia's war against Ukraine played a "major role" in the increase, RSF researcher Christopher Resch told DW. Eight journalists have been killed there since the war began, making the country the second most dangerous in the world for media professionals and pushing the number of journalists killed on the job to 57 (compared to 48 in 2021).
But Mexico heads the list: Eleven journalists were killed there this year — that was four more than in 2021, putting the country top of the list of most dangerous countries for the fourth year in a row. In most cases, the deaths are linked to investigations into drug trafficking and organized crime. Investigating journalists run the biggest risk for their lives when there is a connection between organized crime, politics and corruption, according to the press freedom monitor.
In Mexico, local media representatives are in the most danger. This is different from war reporting, where media professionals are flown in to the battlefield to report on the ground, said Christopher Resch. Together with a partner organization in Mexico, Reporters Without Borders has been campaigning for years for better protection for media professionals, who often risk their lives. But despite some government measures, "virtually nothing has happened," he said. In January alone, three male journalists and one female journalist were murdered in Mexico.
Seven female journalists have been killed this year, which is more than 12% of all victims. Fifteen percent of the journalists in prison are women: 78 of a total of 533 — more than ever before.
The number of women journalists behind bars has increased by 28% on 2021. About a quarter of them are in prison in China and Iran, respectively. RSF researcher Christopher Resch pointed to targeted repression of women in Iran and Belarus. "This is deliberately used to spread more terror and fear of repression," he said.
To improve the situation for all professionals in journalism, including camera operators and producers, Reporters Without Borders is pushing for compliance with internationally agreed-upon standards around the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the framework for protection, says Resch.
However, journalists are at risk not only in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, but also in democratic countries, according to the watchdog. Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks platform, is still detained in a British high-security prison. The US has been demanding his extradition for years and is threatening him with a life sentence for a series of criminal charges over leaking classified documents related to US conduct in the Afghan and Iraq wars. Assange has denied all charges against him.
Christopher Resch is certain that publicly generated pressure has an impact. "We hear that again and again from journalists who have been released," he said.
His overall conclusion, however, is ambivalent: "I think things look relatively bleak. But we shouldn't give up hope."