The number of journalists killed in the line of duty fell in 2019 to the lowest level in 17 years, as dangerous regional conflicts stabilized, and the number of journalists murdered in reprisal for their reporting was the lowest since New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) began keeping track. Syria and Mexico were the deadliest countries.
At least 25 journalists were killed in 2019, the lowest figure since 2002, when at least 21 journalists were killed because of their work. Even more striking, the subset of journalists singled out for murder, at least 10, is the smallest in CPJ’s annual records, which date to 1992. Half of this year’s murders took place in Mexico.
CPJ is still investigating the deaths of 25 other journalists worldwide to determine whether journalism was the motive. This year’s figures cover January 1 to December 13, 2019 and compare with 56 journalists killed with a confirmed motive in all of 2018.
The drop in murders comes amid unprecedented global attention on the issue of impunity in the killing of journalists, due largely to three recent cases that continue to reverberate. On October 16, 2017, the press in the European Union was dismayed when a car bomb killed a prominent anti-corruption blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Malta.
Less than six months later, a second EU murder occurred with the shooting death in Slovakia of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in their home; Kuciak had been reporting on the Italian mafia and alleged embezzlement of EU funds. Later in 2018, the murder and dismemberment of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul made headlines around the world.
One place where efforts to combat impunity seemingly have had no effect is Mexico. At least five journalists there were killed in reprisal for their work in 2019, compared with four last year and six in 2017. CPJ is investigating another six killings in Mexico this year to determine if journalism was the motive. At least two of the journalists murdered this year because of their work had sought protection under Mexico’s Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, a program that was held up as a regional example for press freedom when it was created in 2012 but that has been chronically underfunded, understaffed, and ineffective.
Other findings from CPJ’s research include:
No deaths of media workers were recorded for the first time since 2003, when CPJ began documenting the killings of vital industry employees such as translators, drivers, fixers, and administrative workers.
Vedat Erdemci, the Turkish Kurdish journalist killed in Syria, was the only foreign journalist killed.
Two of the journalists killed were women, Lyra McKee in the U.K. and Norma Sarabia Garduza in Mexico.
Military officials were the most frequently suspected killers of journalists in 2019.
Politics was the most dangerous beat, while the most dangerous job was camera operator.