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Existential threats

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recorded a total of 45 journalists killed worldwide for 2021, “one of the lowest death tolls” it has recorded for any year.

The IFJ figure closely tracks the death toll of 46 journalists compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which also noted the lowest number of journalists killed since starting its tallies in 1995.

“While this decrease is welcome news, it is small comfort in the face of continued violence,” the Brussels-based IFJ said in a statement.

The IFJ death toll included nine in Afghanistan, eight in Mexico, four in India and three in Pakistan. The Asia-Pacific region, which includes Afghanistan, was the deadliest for journalists with 20 killings. The Americas came next with 10, 8 in Africa, 6 in Europe and the Middle East and Arab countries recording just one.

The IFJ said the media workers “more often than not are killed for exposing corruption, crime and abuse of power in their communities, cities, and countries.”

While “the risks associated with armed conflict have reduced in recent years” because fewer journalists were able to report on the ground, “the threats of crime gang and drug cartels rule from the slums in Mexico to the streets of European cities in Greece and the Netherlands continue to increase,” it added.

IFJ Secretary General Anthony Bellanger emphasized his organization’s support for a UN convention for the protection of journalists to “ensure accountability for journalists’ killings.”

Despite the lower death toll for 2021, the world still needs more protections in place for journalists and media workers whose lives and jobs have been in constant danger in recent years. While less deaths have been recorded, authoritarian governments have been finding increasingly creative ways to repress press freedom and undermine traditional media. These state-backed existential threats to journalism and a free press may explain the declining death toll as it is more effective to eliminate and discredit the fourth estate rather than killing the media workers that have been desperately keeping it alive during these difficult times.

Just because less journalists died last year, it doesn’t mean that journalism is safer. It is ultimately up to governments to ensure that journalists and the vocation of journalism is protected and encouraged. What is government doing in our country where the first Filipino to win a Nobel Prize did so because of vicious but non-lethal attacks against journalism?*

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