PARIS (AN) — Journalists faced an "unprecedented level of hostility" in 2018 due to populist hatred whipped up by "unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen," Reporters Without Borders said in a new report.
The Paris-based international organization said that in the past year at least 80 journalists were killed, 348 were detained in prison and 60 were taken as hostages. More journalists were killed, abused or attacked than in any other year on record.
“Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” the organization's secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, said in a statement.
“The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen," he said, "has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists."
The tally of journalists killed distinguished between the 63 that worked professionally, a 15 per cent increase from 2017, and the 17 that were considered media workers or citizen journalists. Reporters Without Borders has been keeping such records since 1995.
The organization called out social media networks for giving people a platform to spread hate speech and radical beliefs to other disaffected people.
"Amplified by social networks, which bear heavy responsibility in this regard, these expressions of hatred legitimize violence, thereby undermining journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day," Deloire said.
U.S. among most dangerous for reporters
The high-profile murders and imprisonments of journalists, along with verbal attacks on the news media that legitimize the hatred, were not relegated to a single region, ideology or political system. Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico and Yemen led the list. The United States and India tied for fifth place.
The annual report for the first time named the United States — where President Donald Trump labeled journalists the enemy of the people and condoned violence against them — among the deadliest countries for journalists, largely due to a June attack that killed five staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
Similar to last year, the five countries that were the biggest jailers of journalists were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, the organization said.
More than 600 journalists have been killed in the past six years, according to another reporters' organization, the International Federation of Journalists, or IFJ, also based in Paris. Nine in 10 of those cases remained unpunished.
"Impunity reigns. Hundreds of journalists are imprisoned and on a daily basis journalists are attacked, beaten, detained, harassed and threatened," IFJ said in a statement. "There are growing threats to digital safety with cyber attacks, hacking, online harassment, especially of women journalists, all creating a safety crisis for news professionals."
IFJ has launched an online campaign to persuade the United Nations to broker an international convention that would help protect journalists and media professionals.
In recognition of the dangers to the press, Time magazine named a group of journalists, including the murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, as its person of the year. It called the journalists "guardians" and noted they face a "war on truth."
The other Time honorees were staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland; Maria Ressa, founder of the news startup Rappler that offers critical coverage in the Philippines; and two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been imprisoned by Myanmar's government for investigative reporting on the killing of Rohingya Muslims.