Global Deaths of Journalists Suddenly Spike With Gaza Conflagration
While worldwide deaths had been trending down, indiscriminate killing drives them up sharply
As the end of 2023 approaches, there has been a macabre spike in the number of journalists killed worldwide. It is the first time in five years that more journalists have been killed in war zones than in relatively more peaceful parts of the world.
The most recent report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that 45 journalists have been killed while performing their duties, 16 fewer than the 61 of the previous year and the lowest number since 2002, when 33 were recorded killed in action or murdered. But that is without the sudden explosion of deaths in Gaza, where the New York-based Society to Protect Journalists reported at least 68 journalists and media workers are among the more than 19,000 killed since the war began on October 7 –with more than 18,000 Palestinian deaths in Gaza and the West Bank and 1,200 deaths in Israel. With the Israeli onslaught continuing, the total is likely to rise before the end of the year.
Five war correspondents have lost their lives this year in the continuing Ukraine conflict. The difference is that most of those killed in Gaza died in their homes or in other off-duty attempts to shelter themselves or their families with them, a testament to the blistering, indiscriminate bombing the Israeli Defense Force has visited on Gaza in retaliation for the October 7 attack. CNN reported that nine relatives of one of its producers were killed in an Israeli strike in northern Gaza. Ibrahim Dahman, 36, was told that his relatives, trapped in northern Gaza, were killed when a strike hit his aunt's home in Beit Lahi. The deaths of those who died while seeking shelter can’t be separated from the stream of poets, peace-seeking lawyers, teachers, babies, mothers, and other noncombants who have been mowed down in the relentless attack by the IDF and the return fire by an equally implacable Hamas in one of the world’s most crowded enclaves.
Reporters Without Borders, said Alexandra Bielakowska, advocacy officer in the press watchdog’s Asia-Pacific Bureau, in an email, “counts only journalists who we have been able to verify, either with certainty or with a body of evidence, that have been killed in the course of their duties or because of the exercise of journalism. Only journalists killed in the line of duty are counted. RSF does not count journalists killed in indiscriminate bombardments. Additionally, some cases are still ‘under investigation’, i.e. we are still seeking formal proof that the journalist's death was indeed directly linked to the exercise of his profession before formally recording them.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists takes a much more liberal approach. In Gaza nonetheless, at least 13 journalists have been counted killed by RSF because of their work since the war began between Israel and Hamas. The organization said it has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to establish the facts and to what point journalists were knowingly targeted.
Some journalists have obviously been killed in action, apparently deliberately. Reuters reported an Israeli tank crew killed a Reuters visual journalist and wounded six other reporters near the Lebanese village of Alma al-Chaab on October 13 by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling. The IDF told Reuters and Agence France Press news agencies that it could not guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in the Gaza Strip, after they had sought assurances that they wouldn’t be targeted by Israeli strikes, Reuters reported on October 27.
Journalists in Gaza face particularly high risks as they try to cover the conflict during the Israeli ground assault, including devastating Israeli airstrikes, disrupted communications, supply shortages, and extensive power outages, CPJ said. Al-Jazeera, the Dubai-based television network, has repeatedly claimed its journalists have been targeted deliberately by Israeli forces. The network reported its cameraman Samer Abudaqa was killed and his colleague, correspondent Wael Dahdouh, was wounded in an Israeli attack in Khan Younis in southern Gaza when Abudaqa and Dahdouh were reporting at Farhana school in Khan Younis when they were hit by an Israeli strike
The rest of the world has hardly been spared action against journalists, even in what until October 7 seemed a relatively placid year. In addition to those killed in action or murdered in retaliation in India, journalists have died in the Philippines, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and other countries across the world for their reporting. Across the world, 521 journalists also begin 2024 in prison vs. 569 in 2022, with China remaining the world’s biggest jailer with 121 media professionals locked up in its prisons including 42 in Xinjiang, RSF reported.
The biggest shock is that 12 are in jail in Hong Kong, which until China cracked down with its National Security Law in 2021 maintained what was arguably Asia’s most unfettered press, formerly a haven for foreign correspondents covering the region. Among them is Jimmy Lai, the publisher of the now-shuttered Apple Daily, who is on trial now and who is unlikely to ever be freed. Also among them is prominent media journalist Claudia Mo, wife of Asia Sentinel co-founder Philip Bowring. The police also gave a five-day jail sentence to Ronson Chan, the chairman of Hong Kong’s leading journalist group the Hong Kong Journalists Association, and a journalist of online news outlet Channel C, after he was arrested in September, accused of refusing to show plainclothes officer his identity card upon request.
Myanmar remains the world’s second biggest jailer of journalists, behind only China, RSF said. The country ranks near the bottom of the group’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, placing 176th out of 180 countries.
Afghanistan, under the repressive rule of the Taliban, remains a major trouble spot for journalists, with another spate of crackdowns. Journalist Abdul Rahim Mohammadi was the latest to be detained in Kabul on December 4, while on December 10. Radio Nasim manager Sultan Ali Javadi was also sentenced to one year in prison in a Taliban court in Nili, Daikundi. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Afghan Independent Journalists Union (AIJU), condemned the journalists’ detention and called for an immediate release of all media workers still in custody.