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20 Dec 2012
By Helena Williams
Journalists killed while covering the the violence in Syria made up the majority of news media casualties in 2012 in one of the bloodiest years on record.
Preliminary findings by the International News Safety Institute show that at least 156 journalists and other media staff were killed because of their work. The global death toll is the third worst on record since INSI began in 2003.
The 33 casualties in Syria were almost double those of the second most dangerous country for journalists, Somalia, where 18 media workers were killed.
News crews have faced unprecedented challenges while trying to report on the unfolding events in Syria, with journalists killed in crossfire or targeted by government or opposition forces. Other journalists have been attacked, tortured, kidnapped and threatened.
The first journalist to be killed in Syria was Shukry Abu Burghol of the state-run al-Thawra newspaper. He was shot by gunmen in Damascus in late December and died on January 2.
Few international journalists have been able to cover the conflict - Syria has been dubbed 'the most difficult one [conflict] we've done' by BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood.
Last week, award-winning NBC correspondent Richard Engel and his team were kidnapped in Syria. They were released on Tuesday after five days in captivity. Other journalists are still missing, including Ukrainian journalist Anhar Kochneva who was kidnapped in October.
And with local news outlets under state control, citizen journalists and activists took extreme risks to try to document the war with cameras and mobile phones.
It has been the deadliest year on record for journalists in Somalia, with 18 media workers killed – all of whom were murdered. Many of these cases were linked to militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab.
The third most dangerous country is Nigeria, where 12 media workers died. Seven of these were unidentified staffers for Nigerian newspaper ThisDay who were killed when suicide bombers detonated explosives by their offices in Abuja and Kaduna in coordinated attacks. A spokesperson for the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram later said the group attacked the newspaper's offices to send a strong message that it would 'no longer condone reports misrepresenting them in the press'.
Pakistan and Mexico were the fourth and fifth deadliest countries, with 10 and 11 fatalities.
The worst year on record was in 2007, when INSI counted the deaths of 172 media workers – 65 of whom were in Iraq. In 2006, 168 journalists died.
Richard Sambrook, Honorary President of the International News Safety Institute, said:
"These figures are a shocking testimony to the risks run by journalists in the course of their work. Not just those reporting conflict - but also those confronting corruption and crime. What's most shocking is how few murders of journalists are pursued to prosecution. All parties - agencies, governments and industry - must work together to reduce risks and end impunity for those who threaten journalists.
“In the words of Sunday Times Correspondent Marie Colvin, who we sadly lost in Syria this year, 'The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people, be they government, military or man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TC screen. We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.' (St Bride's London, 2010)”
The preliminary findings, compiled in liaison with INSI's regional contacts, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), are a prelude to INSI's biannual 'Killing the Messenger' report, an analysis of media casualties around the globe.
Other journalist support groups that are members of INSI maintain separate records based on their own criteria. They are:
The Committee to Protect Journalists http://www.cpj.org
The World Association of Newspapers http://wan-ifra.org
As a safety organisation, INSI records all deaths, whether deliberate, accidental or health-related, of all news media staff and freelancers while on assignment or as a result of their news organisation being attacked because of its work.
Photo: An ambulance believed to be carrying the bodies of two western journalists, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, arriving at Alassad University Hospital in Damascus, Syria. The American journalist Mary Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed on February 22 during an intense bombardment of the Baba Amro district of Homs, Syria. (AP Photo/APTN)