Yearend Roundup: ‘Journalist Killed Because Of Work More Than Doubled In 2020’

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BAGUIO CITY (December 23, 2020) — The number of journalists singled out for murder in reprisal for their work more than doubled this year, leading to a rise in overall work-related killings, New York-based press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its report released Tuesday.

Globally, at least 30 journalists were killed on duty in 2020, including 21 reprisal murders, up from 10 murders last year,  CPJ said, though the number of deaths in combat or crossfire fell to a 20-year low this year.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon remarked, “It’s appalling that the murders of journalists have more than doubled in the last year, and this escalation represents a failure of the international community to confront the scourge of impunity.”

But not in the Philippines, said Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) executive director Joel Egco said.  Only one work-related killing was recorded, the May 5 killing of dyMD Energy FM broadcaster Cornelio Rex Pepino in Dumaguete.  There were only two last year, Undersecretary Egco said.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chairman Nonoy Espina however said there were 4 journalist killings this year, “all during the pandemic”: Pepino;  Jobert Bercasio,  Balangibog TV in   Sorsogon City on September 14;  Virgilio Maganes, dwPR and Northern Watch in Villasis, Pangasinan, on November 10;  Ronnie Villamor, Dos Kantos Balita in Milagros, Masbate on November 14.  He said killers were all unknown except for Villamor, “who was killed by soldiers in what authorities claim was a rebel “encounter”.

Espina succumbed, “we are not disputing (PTFoMS).  They may have (their) own criteria,” but claimed that three journalists were killed in 2019, 4 in 2018, 6 in 2017 and 2 in 2016.

Countries with significant numbers of murders included Mexico and Afghanistan,  CPJ said, citing Mexico as “long been the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western hemisphere.”   This year, at least five journalists were killed there, including four retaliatory murders. Journalists covering Mexico work in an environment of violent drug traffickers and entrenched corruption, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has not shown the political will to combat impunity.  Most recently, a murder and a series of threats to the media by a suspected criminal gang have decimated reporting in the city of Iguala, in Guerrero state, the CPJ said.

While criminal groups were the most frequently suspected killers of journalists around the world, CPJ found out, even citing one “particularly appalling case” where government officials in Iran executed journalist Roohallah Zam on December 12 after he was sentenced to death for his reporting on 2017 anti-government protests.   Because he was jailed as of December 1, Zam was also listed on CPJ’s annual census of imprisoned journalists, which is a global snapshot of those behind bars on that date (and which this year hit a record high).  Simon barked, “it is outrageous that Roohallah Zam appears in CPJ’s census of journalists imprisoned around the world and also the list of those killed in the same year.”

Three journalists were killed in combat or crossfire this year, the fewest since 2000, as the COVID-19 pandemic dominated media attention and restricted travel,  the CPJ also recorded.   All three were killed in Syria by suspected Russian airstrikes. The remaining journalists were killed on other dangerous assignments that turned violent, such as civil unrest in Iraq and Nigeria.

According to CPJ,  it is still investigating the deaths of at least 15 other journalists this year to determine whether journalism was the motive.

CPJ’s analysis of journalists killed for their work is based on data as of December 15, 2020.

“The fact that murder is on the rise and the number of journalists imprisoned around the world hit a record is a clear demonstration that press freedom is under unprecedented assault in the midst of a global pandemic, in which information is essential,” Simon said,  adding,  “we must come together to reverse this terrible trend.”***Artemio A. Dumlao***