Forty-two journalists were killed and 766 others arrested in 2003, which was one of the bleakest for the profession. This was the highest figure of journalists killed since 1995 when 49 journalists were killed, 22 of them in Algeria.
According to the media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, the Middle East and Asia, the most populous region in the world, had the worst casualties with 16 journalists being killed in each region.
The war in Iraq, which saw 14 journalists being killed, contributed to the high number of deaths in the Middle East. The United States military was blamed for at least five of the deaths in Iraq but no investigations were carried out.
Seven journalists were killed in the Philippines last year, the most dangerous year for journalists since 1987. They were killed after condemning corruption and local criminal gangs.
The Americas had seven deaths, four of them in Colombia which has been torn by civil war for 40 years. The four journalists were killed for condemning corruption among deputies and even their collusion with armed groups.
“With an average of four journalists killed each year over the past ten years, Colombia could be considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists,” the media watchdog says. “This extreme state of affairs can be explained by the fact that killers of journalists enjoy total impunity.”
Only two journalists were killed in Africa, both in Cote d’ Ivoire. Both foreign and local journalists have been working in very hazardous conditions since the start of the civil war in September 2002. Many have been accused of being in league with rebels and exposed to the wrath of the mob by pro-government media.
A staggering 1 460 journalists were physically attacked with the bulk, 609 being from Asia. Bangladesh had the worst record. More than 200 journalists in that country were physically attacked or received death threats from political activists, religious extremists or local criminal gangs.
In the Americas 364 journalists were attacked. The majority of the attacks were in Venezuela, where 93 physical attacks were recorded. This was mainly during the end of the big strike against President Hugo Chávez, in January and February. Most attacks were believed to be the work of the president’s supporters who viewed the major media as anti-Chavez.
Europe, which recorded no deaths, had 226 journalists attacked while 149 were attacked in Africa and 92 in the Middle East. Some 187 journalists were detained in Asia, 144 in Africa, 132 in Europe and 67 in the Middle East.
Asia also accounted for the bulk of those censored with 193 followed by Africa with 103. “There was an upsurge of censorship on the African continent. Several countries resumed the practice of seizing newspapers, banning radios and other outlets,” the media watchdog says.
It says in Zimbabwe, the Daily News, the country’s “sole independent daily” paper, was closed in mid-September. “The ageing regime of Robert Mugabe expelled the last foreign correspondent in 2003, leaving the country inaccessible to international media. “
While the country was “inaccessible” to international journalists, international news agencies are still represented in the country. Associated Press whose headquarters is in the United States, Agence France Presse of France and Reuters whose headquarters is in Britain, all have correspondents in Harare but they are Zimbabweans.
And, though the international media continues to claim that Zimbabwe had only one independent newspaper, the country has had two privately owned papers since 2002 when the Southern African Publishing House launched its Daily Mirror. Although the paper was temporarily shut down because of escalating printing costs, it resumed publication in December.
The Daily Mirror, however, seems to have failed to take advantage of the closure of the Daily News to beef its circulation probably because of poor distribution. Another major reason could be that the paper is grossly overshadowed by its owner, Ibbo Mandaza. Because of Mandaza’s close links with the ruling ZANU-PF his paper is often described as a pro-government paper when Mandaza actually launched the paper to bridge the gap between the pro-government Herald and Chronicle and the pro-opposition Daily News.
The Daily News has dominated world attention since it was closed down in September following a Supreme Court ruling that it was operating illegally because it was not registered under the Access to Information and Privacy Act.
The paper did not register because it argued that the Act was in violation of the country’s constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled that the paper could not challenge the act while operating outside the law. The paper took its case to the Administrative Court which said it should be granted a licence but police clamped down on the paper because the Media and Information Commission had appealed against the ruling.
The staff of the paper is still being paid but it was barred from using the paper’s offices because people were abusing the company’s phones. The paper’s chief executive Samuel Siphepha Nkomo accused some of the workers of being spies who were coming to the office to get information to feed the company’s enemies.