If you think a journalist’s job only consists of going to a press conference, interviewing sources, hitting the laptop’s keyboard and then submitting the article for publication, you are most definitely wrong and badly misinformed.

Journalists go beyond their means to pursue stories most people don’t even recognize; they go for interviews that are sometimes risky, and they could be sued for words that some parties may consider inappropriate and defaming. Worst case scenario: they can be killed.

A recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists has revealed that Mexico is the deadliest country in the world for the media in 2020, accounting for almost a third of journalist killings this year.

Nine journalists were killed in Mexico this year. Last month, three journalists were shot dead within 10 days. Mexico’s journalist death toll has already reached at least 120 since 2000.

The report’s findings mean that Mexican journalists are now more likely to be killed than those covering wars.

 “Mexico is suffering a multi-faceted crisis with regard to press freedom. The situation has been getting steadily worse over the past few years, culminating in the country’s abysmal status as the world’s deadliest for reporters in 2020. The crisis principally stems from impunity,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative.

Journalist killings in Mexico has worsened
Journalists killings in Mexico has worsened this year. (Reuters)

This is the first time Mexico has topped the ranking since CPJ began tracking violence against media in 1992. However, the Latin American country has long been considered a dangerous place for journalists outside an official war zone. Journalists investigating drug crimes and government corruption are the most frequent targets of violence.

When President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018, he pledged to take concrete steps to end violence against the press and journalist killings in Mexico. As CPJ found out, in majority of the murder cases, suspects were not convicted.

As a matter of fact, two of the journalists killed this year were under federal protection after they received threats. In both killings, the bodyguards assigned to them also died.

Globally, at least 30 journalists were killed between January and mid-December 2020, according to CPJ.

Of the recorded journalist killings in Mexico, 21 were targeted in retaliation for their work – more than double the number of retaliatory killings documented last year. Though CPJ believes the number could be significantly higher as the organization continues to investigate the motives.

“Retaliatory killings of journalists rise significantly in 2020, as criminal gangs and militant groups target reporters working in violent but democratic nations,” wrote CPJ on their website.

The organization added that war-related deaths have dropped sharply as the intensity of conflicts in the Middle East abate and media’s attention has been turned to the coronavirus pandemic. Three journalists were killed documenting the continuing conflict in Syria, and perished in airstrikes.

Despite the decrease in crossfire killings, countries in conflict remain dangerous for the media. On Monday this week, another Afghan journalist was gunned down in the eastern city of Ghazni – the fifth to be killed this year.

After Mexico, Afghanistan and the Philippines have the most retaliatory killings.

In the Philippines, at least three journalists were murdered this year, despite efforts of the Presidential Task Force for Media Security to solve media killings. Duterte’s administration has clearly fallen short of its promise to protect journalists as the president himself has repeatedly made hostile rhetoric against journalists. In fact, a critic of Duterte and founder of award-wining news site Rappler, was charged for the second time with cyber libel. Ressa, who was TIME Person of the Year in 2018, has been indicted multiple times on libel and tax evasion charges that many critics have described as politically motivated and designed to silence independent media. Furthermore, Duterte shut down the country’s biggest media company, ABS-CBN.

People protest against ABS-CBN shut down in the Philippines. (Reuters)

In a case of direct and public killing of a journalist, Iran publicly executed Roohallah Zam on December 12. Zam’s website and Telegram channel Amad News had reported critically on Iranian officials and share the timings and locations of protests in 2017. Zam was detained in October 2019, and was forced to make a video where he was seen apologizing. He was convicted and sentenced to death in June on 17 charges including espionage, spreading false news abroad, and insulting Islamic values and the supreme leader.

CPJ’s list does not include journalists who died of illness or were killed in car or plane accidents unless it was caused by hostile action. The number of journalist killings may differ from other organizations.

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