The 2012 Roll of Journalist Dead

It is time, as Asia Sentinel does every year, to total up the number of men and women who lost their lives, were jailed, beaten, censored or otherwise scarred because of their dedication to the profession of journalism in 2012.

There are two totals, one by the New York-based Society to Protect Journalists, the other by the French Reporters Without Borders. They differ, apparently because of the difficulty of determining if some were murdered because of their professions, or for other reasons. But both make grim reading.

For the most part, these were people who were willing to court danger or death because of their dedication to bring truth to the reading public. Without accurate, timely and informed reporting, democracies cannot survive. Compare a scale of press freedom with the roll call of corrupt nations maintained by Transparency International. They are remarkably similar.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 88 journalists died in 2012 because of their activities as journalists, along with six media assistants and 46 "netizens" and citizen journalists. While a small handful worked for international news organizations, the vast bulk of the worked for local publications and radio and television stations - or out of their homes as citizen journalists - trying to tell local stories to local citizens and voters to allow them to make the decisions on how their governments and politicians worked, or didn't, or to describe local corruption.

Reporters Without Borders' toll of 88 has far outstripped 2011, in which 67 journalists were listed killed along with just two media assistants and only four netizens and internet journalists. As an indication of the increasing role Internet journalism is playing - and of the increasing danger to those who practice journalism on the Internet - no web journalists were listed killed as late as 2010.

The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 67 dead in connection with their jobs and another 30 killed although the motive for their deaths wasn't clearly established.

Once again, war has taken its grim toll. Of those dead in CPJ's roster, 51 percent of them died in combat, 29 of them in the muddy civil war in Syria. Another 12 died in Somalia, where civilization has basically collapsed. Thirty-two of the 67 listed by CPJ were simply murdered.

Nor have most of the murderers ever been brought to justice. Since 1992, according to CPJ, 664 journalists have been murdered since 1992. Of those, 587 - 88 percent -- have never been solved. Iraq leads the list, with 93 reporters killed in the last decade, followed by Somalia with 11. The Philippines is third, where 37 journalists and media workers were killed in what appears to be the biggest massacre of journalists anywhere in the world, ever. Two years after the killings, the Philippine justice system continues to dither, with no one convicted of the massacre.

In Pakistan, according to Reporters Without Borders, all six of the witnesses who had agreed to testify against five defendants being tried for the January 2011 murder of Geo News TV reporter Wali Khan Babar have been murdered themselves. The last surviving witness, Haider Ali, was shot dead in his home on Nov. 11.

"Babar's tragic murder could now go unpunished," Reporters Without Borders said. "The Sindh provincial government is directly responsible for protecting witnesses and last year the Sindh high court said security personnel should be assigned to protect the witnesses and the lawyers handling the case. But for nearly two years, the provincial government did nothing to protect the six witnesses who had agreed to describe what they saw on the day of the murder, and we therefore call for Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah's immediate resignation."

Reporters Without Borders lists 193 journalists jailed, along with 131 netizen journalists across the world, compared with a total of 232 listed by Committee to Protect Journalists. Turkey, with 72 media personnel recorded currently detained by Reporters Without Borders, of whom at least 42 journalists and four media assistants being held in connection with their media work, leads the list. Most of the imprisoned journalists are representatives of the Kurdish minority.

"Turkey is now the world's biggest prison for journalists - a sad paradox for a country that portrays itself a regional democratic model," Reporters Without Borders said.

The Reporters Without Borders website can be found here, Committee to Protect Journalists here. Both carry details of the dead, missing and imprisoned. They deserve reading, if only to bear witness to those seeking to do a job for which democratic societies have a crucial need. As CPJ says on its website, "murder is the ultimate form of censorship."