On 30th Anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO Spotlights 50% Spike in Killings of Journalists

The following is excerpted from UNESCO’s announcement of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3 since 1993: “After several years of consecutive declines, the steep rise in the number of journalists killed in 2022 is alarming. Authorities must step up their efforts to stop these crimes and ensure their perpetrators are punished, because indifference is a major factor in this climate of violence.” — Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General

Eighty-six journalists and media workers were killed around the world in 2022 – one every four days — according to UNESCO data, highlighting the grave risks and vulnerabilities that journalists continue to face in the course of their work. UNESCO is the acronym for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The spike in killings in 2022 marks a dramatic reversal of the positive trend seen in recent years: from 99 killings in 2018, the number had dropped to an average of 58 killings per year from 2019-2021, according to the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists. These numbers are a reminder of the growing fissures in rule of law systems worldwide, and highlight states’ failure to fulfill their obligations to protect journalists and prevent and prosecute crimes against them.

While every region was affected, Latin America and the Caribbean were the deadliest for journalists in 2022 with 44 killings, over half of all of those killed worldwide. Asia and the Pacific registered 16 killings, while 11 were killed in Eastern Europe. The deadliest individual countries were Mexico (19 killings), Ukraine (10) and Haiti (9).

Half of Journalists Killed Off Duty

Around half of the journalists killed were off duty at the time they were targeted – while traveling, in their homes, or in parking lots and other public places where they were not on assignment. This marks a continuation of a trend in recent years and implies that there are no safe spaces for journalists, even in their spare time.

While the number of journalists killed in countries in conflict rose to 23 in 2022, compared with 20 the previous year, the global increase was primarily driven by killings in non-conflict countries. This number almost doubled from 35 cases in 2021 to 61 in 2022, representing three quarters of all killings last year.

These journalists were killed for a variety of reasons, including reprisals for reporting on organized crime, armed conflict or the rise of extremism, and covering sensitive subjects such as corruption, environmental crimes, abuse of power, and protests.

Impunity Remains Stubbornly High

While there has been some progress in the last five years, the rate of impunity for journalist killings remains shockingly high at 86%, creating a chilling effect for the work of journalists and risking freedom of expression worldwide. This proves that combating impunity remains a pressing commitment on which international cooperation must be further mobilized, UNESCO states.

In addition to killings, journalists continue to be threatened with multiple forms of violence ranging from enforced disappearance, kidnapping and arbitrary detention, legal harassment, and digital violence, particularly against women journalists.

UNESCO’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression Report 2021/2022 highlights these challenges, pointing to the weaponization of defamation laws, cyber laws, and anti “fake news” legislation, which is sometimes applied as a means of limiting freedom of speech, all of which create a toxic environment for journalists to operate in.

UNESCO’s Action to Protect Journalists

UNESCO is the United Nations agency with a mandate to ensure freedom of expression and the safety of journalists around the world. It coordinates the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which marked its 10th anniversary with a global conference in Vienna, Austria, this year.

The organization condemns and monitors judicial follow up to every journalist killing. It also trains journalists and judicial actors, works with governments to develop supportive policies and laws, and raises global awareness through events such as World Press Freedom Day (May 3) and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (November 2), both held annually.

Related News: Memorial Honoring Fallen Journalists to Be Established in Washington, D.C.

In related news, the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation just received site approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to begin designing a memorial on the National Mall to commemorate America’s commitment to a free press by honoring journalists who have died while reporting the news.

The approved site is located in Washington, D.C., at Independence Avenue, Maryland Avenue, and 3rd SW, between the National Museum of the American Indian and Voice of America. The memorial will be funded entirely by private donations, with the goal of completing the project by the end of 2028.