NEW YORK — An international press freedom watchdog said that 2009 saw a record number of journalists killed, including the single worst massacre in the Philippines, as well as an increase in journalists jailed, fueled by the crackdown in Iran.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the massacre of 29 journalists and two media support workers in a politically motivated ambush in the southern Philippines on Nov. 23 claimed more lives than any single event since it started documenting attacks on the press 18 years ago.
In its annual report on freedom of the press released Tuesday, the committee also accused Iran of being one of the leading jailers of journalists last year, with more than 90 reporters arrested and at least 23 writers and editors still being held.
That's second only to China, where 24 journalists are in jail today, it said, though that's a decline from a high of 42 in 2004.
"The tragedies of 2009 only make our challenge more clear," the committee's executive director Joel Simon said in the report's introduction. "Creating vibrant and secure global media requires new strategic thinking to bring killers to justice, to reduce the number of journalists in jail, and to support reporters working in exile or in repressive environments."
He said there has been progress, and strongly endorsed the "naming and shaming" of violators which has generated public attention and mobilized action to protect journalists.
The report names 70 journalists killed because of their reporting – including 32 in the Philippines, nine in Somalia, four in Iraq, four in Pakistan and three in Russia. It said 24 other journalists were killed but the motive couldn't be confirmed, including six in Mexico and three in Pakistan.
Consistent with an overall drop in violence, the number of Iraqi media deaths fell sharply to just four from 32 in 2007 and 11 in 2008, but the committee complained of increasing government harassment and assaults on the media, even in the relatively secure Kurdish region.
Newsweek International's Editor Fareed Zakaria said in the preface that the closure of many foreign bureaus and reliance on freelancers abroad means that these stringers are taking on added risks.
"Nine freelancers were killed in reprisal for their work in 2009, while 60 others were in prisons worldwide" late last year, he said.
The committee said it identified 136 imprisoned reporters, editors and photojournalists on Dec. 1, 2009, an increase of 11 from 2008.
The survey found that the number of online journalists in prison "continued a decade-long rise," with at least 68 bloggers, Web-based reporters and online editors behind bars.
In the Middle East, the press freedom group said government agencies continue to enforce heavy-handed press laws, including harassment through courts. Middle Eastern governments also stepped up efforts to stifle free information through the Internet, especially monitoring and harassing bloggers, it said.
The report quoted Egyptian activists as saying that "Internet police" are monitoring digital traffic and sharing it among state security agencies.
Associated Press Writer Salah Nasrawi in Cairo contributed to this report.