Journalists’ deaths surge in Gaza but global 2023 toll drops, watchdog says

Reporters Without Borders says journalists paying ‘heavy price’ in Gaza, where 13 have been killed on the job this year.

A journalist looks on as the sun sets over the Gaza Strip
A journalist looks on over the Gaza Strip, deemed the world's deadliest place for journalists in 2023 [File: Jack Guez/AFP]

Forty-five journalists were killed while on the job in the first 11 months of the year, media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said, noting that it was a decline from last year’s worldwide total despite the deadly toll of the Israel-Palestinian war.

The most lethal place for journalists by far this year was Gaza, where at least 13 journalists were killed while actively covering the war, according to the RSF’s annual report published on Thursday. The total number of journalists killed in Gaza – irrespective of the line of their work – was 56, RSF said.

“Among civilians in Gaza, journalists are paying a heavy price,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

They are among 63 journalists who have been killed in the Middle East since the war broke out on October 7, 17 of whom meet RSF’s definition of having been killed “in the exercise of their duties or in connection with their status as a journalist”.

‘War crimes’

RSF said it had filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court for “war crimes” over the deaths of journalists killed in the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas.

This echoes calls for war crime investigations by rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which determined in independent inquiries that Israeli forces had likely deliberately targeted reporters covering the hostilities.

Among them was Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed by Israeli fire in southern Lebanon while wearing a clearly marked press vest in an area far from active combat, the media outlet said. Also injured at the time were six other journalists, including Al Jazeera cameraperson Elie Brakhia and reporter Carmen Joukhadar.

Despite the high death toll in the Gaza war, the overall number of journalists killed doing their job in 2023 was the lowest in decades, RSF said, largely due to fewer journalists being targeted in Latin America and less violence in countries like Syria and Iraq.

“It takes nothing away from the tragedy in Gaza but we are observing a regular decline, and are very far from the 140 journalists killed in 2012 and again in 2013” because of the wars in Syria and Iraq, Deloire said.

The decline is also due to efforts by intergovernmental organisations and NGOs to combat impunity and greater “prudence” by reporters themselves, Deloire added.

Since 1995, RSF has been compiling its annual report of violence and abuses against journalists on the basis of data gathered from 1 January to 1 December of the year in question.

‘Still not safe’

Outside of Gaza, Ukraine and Mexico continued to prove dangerous for journalists.

Two journalists were killed covering the Ukraine war in 2023, including AFP reporter Arman Soldin, RSF said. In total, 11 reporters have been killed since the start of the conflict in February 2022 following Russia’s invasion.

There was a sharp drop in journalists’ deaths in Latin America, where six reporters were killed in 2023, compared with 26 in 2022.

In Mexico alone, the number fell to four from 11 the previous year. Still, RSF warned that Mexico remains dangerous for journalists, citing continued kidnappings and attacks. Of the 84 journalists counted as missing worldwide, about a third are Mexican.

“Working as a journalist in [Latin America] is still not safe, as recent abductions and armed attacks in Mexico demonstrate,” said RSF.

The number of reporters behind bars also decreased in 2023, dropping to 521 from 569 in 2022, with Belarus joining China and Myanmar as “one of the three biggest prisons in the world”.

Turkey and Iran also repeatedly jail journalists, the report said.

A total of 54 journalists are being held hostage, compared with 65 in 2022, the report said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies