By Max Kolbe
As 2010 draws to a close Pakistan appears set to take out the most unwanted prize in journalism as the most dangerous place to work. At least 42 journalists were killed worldwide in 2010, with Iraq, Mexico, and Honduras just behind Pakistan according to the Committee to Protect Journalist.
China and Iran also stood out, by pushing the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide to its highest level since 1996, with 145 reporters, editors, and photojournalists identified by the CPJ as being behind bars on December 1, up by nine from the 2009 tally.
Eritrea was third among the foremost jailers of journalists.
Among the dead, six of the eight Pakistani journalists were killed in suicide attacks or in crossfire during militant strikes. Such attacks injured more than two dozen other Pakistani journalists over a year when Afghanistan, Thailand and last year’s standout – The Philippines — also made unwanted contributions.
Rather glibly, the report reads like an annual profit and loss statement from a major corporate.
This year’s number is an improvement from 2009 when 72 died, however, the numbers are slightly misguiding.
The sharp drop was partially attributed to last year’s figures being extraordinarily high with 32 journalists killed among 57 people murdered in a single massacre in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province. It was the country’s worst political killings blamed on the powerful Ampatuan clan.
Efforts by recently elected President Begnino Aquino to launch investigations into those murders, separate from current ongoing legal action, and the record number of killings of journalists and human rights workers that occurred under his predecessor Gloria Arroyo have met with stiff resistance within the bureaucracy she left behind.
This included her appointments to the Supreme Court bench.
The Supreme Court has already declared the executive order creating a Truth Commission to specifically try corruption cases committed during the Arroyo administration as a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
In separate hearings the court has already thrown out petitions lodged against Arroyo’s son “Mikey” who is seeking another term in the House of Representatives on the party list system as representing his country’s security guard industry and tricycle drivers.
The court has also issued warnings in regards to subjudice about bringing the institution — that’s the Supreme Court — into disrepute.
All this has proved a bit much for Senator Francis Pangilinan (and more than a few others) who has urged the Supreme Court to rise beyond personal dictates.
“How on earth can we legally and morally say that a son of a former President can represent a party-list organization for security guards? He does not represent security guards. Even a third grader can tell you that,’’ Pangilinan told the local press.
“He (Mikey) represents his mother and their family and their personal and political interests, and the Supreme Court expects us to accept and respect its decision saying it isn’t so and he truly represents the marginalized security guards sector?’’ he asked.
Whether Pakistan can fare any better in probing why so many of its journalists died this year remains to be seen. According to the CPJ report about 40 percent of all deaths in 2010 took place in combat and other dangerous circumstances.
The CPJ added: “Suicide bombings and crossfire in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, and Somalia accounted for the unusually high proportion.”
With the number of freelancers growing amid the digital age alongside Internet based journalists it should not be too surprising to see an increase in contributions from each of those categories in the CPJ death and imprisoned toll.
“At least six journalists who worked primarily online were killed in 2010. Internet journalists rarely appeared in CPJ’s death toll until 2008, when online reporters doing front-line investigative work began to be targeted with violence.”
Sadly the CPJ is unlikely to be the last word on murdered and jailed journalists for the year.
Since the report was released Muhammad Khan Sasoli became the fourth media professional to be killed in Pakistan in less than two weeks. Sasoli worked for Royal TV and the INP news agency in Khuzdhar and was a president of a local press club. Two men on a motorcycle shot him outside his home.
Indonesian journalists are demanding a full investigation into the death of Alfrets Mirulewan, chief editor of the Pelangi Weekly, who had gone missing and was later found dead with bruises on much of his body.
And Filipino journalist Edison Flamenia was shot dead while walking home in Labangan. Flamenia was writing for the Mindanao Inquirer in the country’s troubled south. On a brighter note, Randy Makiputin, a commentator for the Radyo Abante was shot in the head by assailants on motorcycles but survived.
Updates by other media monitoring organizations will no doubt deliver a fuller result.
Meanwhile, hearty congratulations to the US state department, that great bastion of free speech.
No sooner had Wikileaks founder Julian Assange been arrested than it dispatched the following press release:
“The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 – May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.
“The theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers.”
How appropriate given the precedents set by Washington’s hysterical pursuit of Assange, perhaps a more appropriate host of the next World Press Day should be found. How about Singapore?