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Killing Journalists

Written by Mike Minehan on .

The public beheadings of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, followed by the beheading of British aid worker David Haines, have tragically highlighted the dangers involved in reporting on the news for global audiences.

steven sotloff

All three men were murdered by the Islamic State, which is seeking to establish a Muslim caliphate across the Middle East.

However, although these deaths were dramatically tragic, the beheadings have perhaps drawn attention away from the total number of journalists killed in 2014.

The International Press Institute (IPI) reports that 69 journalists were killed in 2014.

This number includes media workers who were deliberately targeted because of their profession – either because of their reporting or simply because they were journalists.

In general, approximately one third of journalists killed are deliberately murdered to silence them. Others are killed in crossfire, or because they were on dangerous assignments.

The IPI Death Watch figures are tragic enough, but they are only a fraction of the number of journalists worldwide who are falsely imprisoned, tortured, beaten, threatened or who are simply missing.

Earlier in 2014, three journalists were imprisoned in Egypt for up to 10 years for doing their jobs. These journalists were respected professionals, working for Al Jazeera's English-language network. They were convicted on specious charges for conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports of civil unrest.

When asked by the court to display the allegedly false news reports obtained from the journalists' laptops, prosecutors showed images of a family vacation taken by one journalist, and scenes of horses grazing in Luxor, Egypt. More details are available in the report on their trial at the New York Times.

Many other journalists are forced into exile to protect their own lives and the lives of their families. Perhaps even worse, the media community they leave behind is often intimidated into self censorship.

Those who manage to successfully escape threats to their lives have harrowing tales to tell.

Over a recent period of 12 months, the Committee to Protect Journalists supported 42 media workers around the world who were forced to flee from their homes and their countries. The stories of eight of these journalists is on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

If journalists are prevented from reporting on stories from conflict zones around the globe, the world will have no way of knowing about abuses of power that include killing, torture and intimidation. The guilty will remain hidden and beyond reproach. People will remain oppressed and helpless without a voice, and the world will continue to be kept in ignorance.

The decapitations of journalists and an aid worker by the Islamic State were a gruesome departure from the usually covert murders of journalists that are concealed by darkness and covered up by official secrecy or indifference.

But perhaps these ghastly close-ups will now more dramatically illustrate the dangers that many thousands of  journalists face worldwide, every day.