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Attacks and censorship erode press freedom worldwide

New York, February 14, 2013--An unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned in the past year coupled with restrictive legislation and state censorship is jeopardizing independent reporting in many countries, according to Attacks on the Press, a yearly assessment of global press freedom released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"When journalists are silenced, whether through violence or laws, we all stand to lose because perpetrators are able to obscure misdeeds, silence dissent, and disempower citizens," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "The battle to control information is an assault on public accountability that cannot go unchallenged. Governments must prosecute perpetrators and stop those seeking to incapacitate public oversight by blunting critical and probing reporting." 

Leading indicators featured in Attacks reveal a deteriorating environment for press freedom. In 2012, the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide reached a record high, a trend driven primarily by terrorism and other anti-state charges levied against critical reporters and editors. CPJ identified 232 journalists behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since the organization began the survey in 1990. CPJ research shows that over the past two decades, a journalist is killed in the line of duty once every eight days. Seventy journalists lost their lives in the line of duty in 2012, a 43 percent increase from 2011. More than 35 journalists have gone missing.

To determine growing threats, the 2013 edition of Attacks also features CPJ's new Risk List, which identifies the 10 places where the organization documented the most significant downward trends during 2012. Those trends included:

  • High murder rates and entrenched impunity in Pakistan, Somalia, and Brazil.
  • The use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in Ecuador, Turkey, and Russia.
  • The imprisonment of large numbers of journalists, typically on anti-state charges, to thwart critical reporting in Ethiopia, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, and Syria.
  • An exceedingly high fatality rate in Syria, where journalists faced multiple risks from all sides in the conflict.

"Attacks on the Press exposes the aggressive efforts of state and non-state actors to silence journalists, particularly those covering crime, corruption, politics, and conflict," said Mahoney. "The right to receive and impart information transcends borders, and international and regional bodies have a key role to play in upholding these principles, which are under attack."   

A U.N. plan to strengthen international efforts to fight impunity and increase journalist security around the world--which is being implemented with CPJ support--aims to create safer conditions for journalists around the world. The plan and a five-year-old U.N. resolution that calls for the protection of journalists in conflict zones require full implementation in order to guarantee a free and safe press. U.N. member states must honor their commitment beyond training programs, special appointments, and rhetoric, while U.N. agencies should adopt practices to bring coordinated rapid responses on the ground to the crises facing the press.  

"Today, even as technology fuels a global communications revolution, a range of governments are challenging the very concept of press freedom, arguing that it is not a universal right at all but must be adapted to national circumstances," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon wrote in Attacks. "The basic consensus supporting freedom of expression in international law is strong enough to push back firmly against autocratic leaders who seek legal and political cover for their restrictive policies."

First published in 1986, Attacks on the Press is the definitive annual assessment of the state of press freedom worldwide. The 2013 edition features up-to-the-minute analyses by CPJ and global experts on media conditions, press freedom violations, and emerging threats in every corner of the world, along with regional data and a snapshot of conditions in close to 60 countries. Thematic essays in the book focus on the anti-press offensive by non-state actors in Africa; the weakening of the inter-American human rights and press freedom system; the looming media vacuum in Afghanistan; China's relationship with the foreign press; mobile security; self-censorship in Mexico; citizen journalists in Syria; censorship by extremists on stories of religion; coverage of oil in Africa; and the prospects of a global press freedom charter in times of increasing challenges. An expanded print edition with exclusive essays by leading journalists is published by Bloomberg Press, an imprint of Wiley, and is available for purchase. 

Note to Editors: Regional sections of Attacks on the Press are available online in Arabic, French, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese. In determining the Risk List, CPJ staff examined six press freedom indicators: fatalities, imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile.


Media contacts:

Advocacy and Communications Director Gypsy Guillén Kaiser: Tel. +1.212.300.9029; E-mail: [email protected]      

Advocacy and Communications Associate Magnus Ag: Tel. +1.212.300.9007, E-mail: [email protected] 

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