Reporting the dead: Part Two

The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has published its end-of-year report and it does not make easy reading for journalists. This is the second part of a two-part blogpost. Here we analyse the figures since 2006.

  • 2006 – 2010 – Death toll: 529

a) The five most deadly countries

1. Iraq 127

The ongoing insurgency has caused the most problems for reporters but religious conflict between the different Muslim congregations and ethnic troubles towards the Kurdish north of the country have contributed to make Iraq the most dangerous nation for journalists in the last 5 years. The withdrawal of UK and US combat troops was meant to herald a change in the fortunes for Iraqis but the militancy has continued.

2. The Philippines 59

Developing fast with a mushrooming population, the Philippines is becoming a deadly platform for reporting. Inter-religious divisions and ethnic bonds spill over into the politics, which sees a number of assassinations every year. Journalists are regularly caught up in the shootings.

3. Mexico 47

Five years ago, Felipe Calderon was sworn into office as Mexico’s president. In the same year he launched his ‘war on drugs’, an aggressive policy of taking on the gangsters head-to-head with the military spearheading the campaign. Five years later and a staggering 28,000 people have died in the violence. The majority have been gang members, but thousands of policemen and soldiers have died too. And so have 47 journalists, unsure over what to publish and what to broadcast as the cartels’ media influence grows. As the war intensifies and continues, it becomes an increasingly deadly news story to report.

4. Pakistan 38

The NATO coalition’s war in Afghanistan has spread to Pakistan and although operations began in Afghanistan in 2001, over the last 5 years there has been increased activity in Pakistan; both by the Taliban and by mainly US forces. When the militancy is added to religious strife, the ongoing Kashmir situation and corrupt politics, it is clear that the journalistic atmosphere is particularly dangerous.

5. Somalia 23

A country without a full-functional government since 1993, Somalia has been the scene of fierce fighting and warfare mainly between government troops and Islamist militias, of which Al-Shabab is the most prominent. Recently, African Union peacekeepers have been trying to improve stability in the capital, but intimidation and violence from the militants have meant very little press freedom.

b) The rest of the world

Africa (18): DRC 7, Nigeria 7, Angola 4

Asia (70): Sri Lanka 15, Afghanistan 14, India 14, Nepal 9, Thailand 6, Israel/Gaza 5, Indonesia 4, Lebanon 3

Europe (26): Russia 21, Georgia 5

Latin America (44): Colombia 19, Honduras 14, Venezuela 7, Guatemala 4

Mexican bicentenary year closing in familiar bloody fashion

This has been another violent year in Mexico and celebrations for the bicentenary of the uprising that led to independence and the centenary of the Revolution have been overshadowed by record numbers of deaths.

There was some slight relief for Mexican president Felipe Calderon this week as the National Security Council (CSN) released figures showing decreases in the weekly death toll for the country’s two most deadly states, the border regions of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

Furthermore, the death toll in Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous city, was slashed by 50% last month. But, just as has happened in the past when promising data have been published about the city, the information has been rendered fruitless as this weekend (4/5 December) has been another bloody one. Gangsters shot dead 10 people in two separate attacks in Juarez, according to the state-run news agency Notimex. Firstly, a group of armed men ambushed four municipal policemen and six people at a local metal works shop were also killed when gunmen gatecrashed a barbecue, continuing gangsters’ penchant for committing multiple murders at parties and family get-togethers. There have been more than 2,500 deaths in Juarez so far this year.

There are two particular areas of growing concern for the government, which launched the US-backed ‘war on drugs’ four years ago. The first is the rising numbers of women who are involved in the war. On 19 October, a 20-year-old criminology student was sworn in as the police chief in the town of Guadalupe Distrito Bravo, in Chihuahua state. She was following in the unfortunate footsteps of Hermila Garcia Quinones, who was the first Mexican woman to take charge of a local police force. Last week, Mrs Garcia was assassinated.

The second area is particularly chilling: the children who work for the gangs. In the same week as Garcia’s death, Mexican soldiers arrested a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of beheading victims for a faction of the Beltran Leyva cartel.

But the encouraging figures from the CSN do not mask the truth: the drugs war is far from over and the strength and reach of the gangs shows no sign of abating. More than 10,000 people have been killed this year and the total figure since 2006 has surpassed the gruesome milestone of 28,000. There were massed parades and fiestas galore in September (Independence) and November (Revolution) but in this year of historical celebration, the drugs war ploughs on. With neither side backing down, it is hard to see how the situation can improve in 2011.