The deaths of four journalists in the US yesterday drove the total number of journalists and media workers killed so far this year to 51.
The death toll is normally released at the end of the year, but press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, RSF) said the six-month figure is so “alarming” they have released it early – and that was before the fatal shooting at the Capital Gazette in Maryland, in which a sales assistant for the newspaper was also killed.
Forty journalists, nine citizen journalists and two media assistants have been killed globally in 2018 so far.
By comparison, a total of 65 media workers were killed worldwide in the whole of last year – one of the lowest recorded yearly death tolls for the profession in some time.
“To go from that to this is really worrying,” said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s London bureau chief. “The safety of journalists has become our top global priority everywhere.”
From January to the end of June, the US has marked itself out as the deadliest country for journalists in the western hemisphere with six deaths so far this year.
Afghanistan has been the most deadly country for journalists overall with 11 killed so far this year. An orchestrated suicide attack on a press pack in Kabul in April killed nine journalists.
Syria was the second most deadliest overall, with seven deaths, followed by the US on six and then Yemen and Mexico, which are each on five.
One journalist, investigative reporter Jan Kuciak in Slovakia, has been killed in the course of his work within the European Union this year.
Italy has placed more than 200 journalists under protection and recently foiled an assassination plot against a journalist in the country.
“It’s no longer just what we think of as war zones, it’s happening everywhere,” said Vincent. “We cannot be complacent in democracies.
“Luckily we are not working on these cases in the UK, but it is happening throughout Europe with alarming frequency.”
Vincent said there had been a global decline in press freedom over the last few years, with RSF’s World Press Freedom Index scores having dropped sharply in 2016 and stayed there.
“Year-by-year the whole world is getting worse,” she said.
“There’s been a rise in hateful rhetoric against journalists in a number of countries. It’s the strongman model that is rising – rhetoric from the likes of US President Donald Trump is contributing to this.”
Vincent warned there was a “divisive sometimes toxic discourse around the media” in the UK.
“We do have public officials in the UK who clearly don’t trust the press and make comments dismissing the role of the media,” she said.
“I wouldn’t highlight any one person in particular, but we need to take steps to improve our media freedom climate here.”
She said an attack similar to that in the US yesterday was “not something that is unthinkable” in the UK, adding: “We don’t know when or where this could happen and we have to be vigilant.
“We hope we can prevent such attacks from happening, but we have to look at what happens for these conditions to arise and address the root causes.”
RSF is one of more than 130 non-governmental organisations calling on the United Nations to create a special representative for the safety of journalists, a move that has received backing by French president Emmanuel Macron.
“These sorts of attacks [as seen in the US yesterday] really highlight the need for this protector of journalists role to be created,” said Vincent.
The group has also called on the British Government to do more to safeguard journalists in its two-year role as Commonwealth chair-in-office, which began in April this year.
India has seen four journalists killed so far this year, making it the most deadly Commonwealth country for reporters.
Vincent said 2018 was already “one of the most alarming years in recent history for journalists” and that the international community needed urgently to find ways to address this issue “before more people are killed for their work”.
She said apart from the human tragedy of these killings, “it’s the public that suffers ultimately”.
“Every attack like this has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. It results in less reporting on risky topics thereby diminishing our ability as a public to hold our government to account.
“We need to not be complacent. We can’t assume that something like this cannot happen here. It’s happened across Europe, it’s happened in the US.
“We need to make sure that we are efficient here and take our own steps to protect newspapers’ freedom and that we respect our journalists.”
More than 800 journalists have been killed in the last decade, according to RSF which updates its barometer measuring the deaths and imprisonments of journalists on a daily basis.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also details the deaths of journalists as a result of their work.