'The Most Savage, Brutal Year in the Modern History of the Media' ; ON THE PRESS

Article excerpt

Journalists and civil rights campaigners are rightly concerned at the gradual erosion of press freedom in Britain. The watering down of the Freedom of Information Act, the shameful attempt by MPs to exempt their own affairs and the introduction of a privacy law by stealth are some of the reasons for concern.

Yet these issues pale into relative insignificance when compared to the treatment of the media in the rest of the world.

Two recent reports - from the International Press Institute and the International News Safety Institute - make sensational reading. The first shows that 100 journalists were killed last year, 46 of them in Iraq. The second lists a thousand journalists who have died in action over the past decade.

Even more shocking is that culprits have been brought to justice for only two out of every 10 of these deaths, which points an accusing finger at governments for inaction, or worse.

Wide publicity has been given to the kidnapping of Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza correspondent, but - as I became aware myself recently at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai - such events are almost routine in the lives of Middle Eastern journalists. Even so, the Arab conference gladly joined the global chorus of protest about the BBC man.

Johann Fritz, the IPI Director, describes 2006 as "the most savage and brutal year in the modern history of the media." Ten journalists were murdered in the Philippines, seven in Mexico, five in Sri Lanka, four in Pakistan, and three each in Afghanistan and Colombia. Journalists were also killed in Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Venezuela. In nearly all cases the journalists were victims of targeted assassination.

The IPI has a "watch list" of countries where press freedom is endangered. This year the named countries are Ethiopia, Nepal, Russia,Venezuela and Zimbabwe. These are not chosen as the world's most repressive regimes, but places where the IPI believe there is still hope that the situation for the media can be improved by diplomatic pressure. South Korea and Sri Lanka have come off the previous year's list. …