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[liberationtech] Online journalist fatalities, deaths in combat both hit record highs

frank at frank at
Tue Dec 18 06:26:18 PST 2012

Speaking of the need, today CPJ released its journalist killed figures
for 2012.

Two records: A record number of online journalists killed in 2012. And
more journalists killed in combat situations in 2012 than in any
previous year that CPJ has been keeping records. 

Syria is the main reason behind both trends, as Syrian citizen
journalists filing to online outlets like Shaam News Network dominated
this year's fatalities.

Combat deaths at a high, risks shift for journalists
By Frank Smyth/Senior Adviser for Journalist Security
Ambulances carry the bodies of Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik, who were
killed in government shelling in Syria. (Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri)

Murder is the leading cause of work-related deaths among journalists
worldwide--and this year was no exception. But the death toll in 2012
continued a recent shift in the nature of journalist fatalities
worldwide. More journalists were killed in combat situations in 2012
than in any year since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed records.

CPJ Special Report
• Journalist deaths
spike in 2012

The 23 journalists killed in combat-related crossfire make up 34 percent
of the worldwide death toll this year, about twice the historical
average. And beginning in 2010, the number of journalists killed while
covering street protests or similar dangerous assignments has risen well
above the rates recorded since 1992. Journalists carrying cameras--still
photographers, television cameramen, and videographers--paid an
unusually heavy price in recent years. Freelancers and online
journalists have also composed an increasing proportion of fatalities
during this timeframe. Many of those killed during combat and dangerous
assignments were relatively inexperienced, with some of the victims in
Syria still in their teens.

So what does this say? It's worth keeping in mind that the risks to
journalists change with the news, and the conditions of 2012 won't
necessarily be replicated in 2013 or in the future. But a few things
stand out from the recent death tolls that demand the attention of the

Technology has allowed individuals to cover and disseminate news on
their own, without having an affiliation with a news organization. The
proportion of online journalists in CPJ's annual death tolls has been
rising since 2008, but the 25 online journalists killed worldwide in
2012 represent a record. In Syria, the government worked hard to block
the international press, prompting numerous Syrians to pick up cameras
to document the violence and upload hours of their footage to online
collectives such as Shaam News Network. During the political uprisings
that swept the Arab world, domestic and international freelancers were
similarly called to action. Individuals with cameras were more likely to
be in harm's way as they sought to cover the tumult--and they were also
more obvious targets for violence.

"I think we have to differentiate between local citizen journalists who
report on what is happening in their own country and to their own
people, and Western freelancers who go to places like Syria to report on
the conflict," said Peter N. Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human
Rights Watch who leads a Facebook group composed of conflict journalists
and others.

Citizen journalists "are part of a seismic shift in the media business,
and we are just beginning to understand how we can use the materials
they collect, and how we can work together to report better," Bouckaert
said. "The role of Western freelancers is totally different. In a
shrinking, increasingly risk-adverse media environment, it is all too
often freelancers who end up going to the places where the big media
won't send their reporters."

Many inexperienced, young freelancers can be "lulled" into "a sense of
false comfort," Bouckaert noted. "The smartest ones who went through
Libya took a step back, and went to take a first-aid course and hostile
environment training." But many media organizations that rely on
stringers for news also need to step up, he added. "If we want to talk
seriously about safety, we need to start getting the media organizations
to start contributing more toward safety training and safety gear for

The annual death tolls in Iraq during the peak of that nation's violence
still exceed that of Syria: 32 journalists were killed in Iraq in both
2006 and 2007. But the large majority of deaths in Iraq, especially in
the later years of the war, were not combat-related. They were murders.
Local journalists working for Western news organizations and those
working for local news outlets with perceived sectarian viewpoints were
targeted for their affiliation, hunted down, and murdered by the dozen
in Iraq. Murder has been the leading cause of death in Afghanistan as

Any conflict, including the war in Syria, could evolve in ways that
would make journalists more vulnerable to targeted attacks than
crossfire. That is what has happened, in effect, in Somalia. Government
and allied troops largely ousted the militant group Al-Shabaab from the
capital, Mogadishu, in 2011, but journalist murders have spiked in the
aftermath as remnants of the insurgents and political factions jockey,
violently, for control. All 12 journalists killed in Somalia in 2012
were murdered.

The 2012 death toll in Syria reflects the range of combat dangers. Many
died in government artillery or aerial attacks on populated urban areas.
Four were killed in crossfire between government and rebel forces. Four
more were shot at close range, according to witnesses, during military
operations by either government or rebel forces. Three were murdered
outright in non-military circumstances. One journalist died in an
explosion. Long-range snipers from either government or rebel forces
killed three more. (The last time sniper fire claimed so many
journalists' lives was in Bosnia, in 1992 and 1993.)

Many combat-related deaths are hardly faultless. In many instances,
armed forces act recklessly in firing upon civilians such as
journalists. In other cases, they appear to have targeted journalists in
violation of international law. Lebanese cameraman Ali Shaaban, who was
working just over the border in Lebanon, was killed in a hail of 40
bullets fired by plainclothes Syrian security forces. U.S.-born
correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were
killed in government shelling that struck their makeshift media center
in Homs; journalists who survived believe the shelling was precise,
indicating government forces had targeted the center.

Unfortunately, there is little accountability for attacks on journalists
in Syria or elsewhere. "Most of these abuses remain unpunished," the
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in
a March 2012 report on journalist security. "States must therefore
ensure that the perpetrators of crimes and acts of violence against
media professionals and associated personnel are brought to justice,
while also taking preventative measures to ensure that such crimes are
not committed in the first place."

Here is one more statistic from CPJ's year-end analysis of journalist
fatalities. The rate of accountability for journalist deaths in 2012?

Frank Smyth is CPJ’s senior adviser for journalist security. He has
reported on armed conflicts, organized crime, and human rights from
nations including El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Cuba, Rwanda,
Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Jordan, and Iraq. Follow him on
Twitter @JournoSecurity.

Tags: Al-Shabaab, Ali Shaaban, Blogger, Homs, Internet, Killed, Marie
Colvin, Rémi Ochlik, Shaam News Network

December 18, 2012 12:00 AM ET

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