November 2nd marked the International Day to End of Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, an observance instituted by the United Nations in 2014. To commemorate it, UNESCO released a report detailing the situation regarding crimes against journalists worldwide.

We picked 7 key findings presented in the report.

1. Journalism remains a dangerous occupation, with 156 journalists killed in two years

The report documents an unacceptably high number of journalists killed – 156 according to UNESCO’s findings – in 2018-2019. Roughly half of them died while “on duty” (“in the field” or otherwise directly conducting their work, others were killed “outside of their immediate work context”, such as at their home).

In total 1,166 journalists were killed from 2006 until 2019. (Obviously, this number might be an undercount, as reliable data is not available everywhere, particularly in areas with low press freedom). This year 39 journalists have been killed as of September.

2. Good news: 2019 saw the lowest number of journalist murders in a decade

In 2019, UNESCO recorded 57 cases of journalist killings, down from 99 the previous year and the lowest number since 2008. 

The most likely explanation for this positive development, according to the report, is the “unprecedented global attention and mobilization” following several high-profile cases (such as the murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi) as well more effective national mechanisms to ensure journalist safety.

However, the drop can also be attributed to the media’s self-censorship in the view of threats, as well as reduced journalist presence in the most dangerous conflict zones. Indeed, reporting in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen in particular has become so dangerous most media have just ceased local coverage.

3. Latin America and the Caribbean is the most dangerous region; Europe and North America are the least dangerous

The most dangerous part of the world for journalists is Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2019, this area saw 23 victims, or 40% of the worldwide toll. This is mostly due to the high level of drug violence in these countries – Mexico was the global (anti)leader, with 12 journalists killed.

Sadly, there is no world region without journalist killings. However, two regions recorded only one case each in 2019 — Western Europe and North America (counted as one region by UNESCO), as well as in Central and Eastern Europe. The areas also saw improvements compared to 2018 when the two regions combined had 10 journalists killed (but were still on the bottom of this grim rate). 

4. Male journalists comprise the vast majority of victims; women face gender-based attacks

An overwhelming 92% of journalists killed in 2018 and 2019 were men. The main reason is that more men typically work in conflict zones and investigate sensitive topics, the main factors putting journalists in danger.

However, “female media workers continue to face offline and online attacks putting their safety at risk”. Among the journalists killed in the two years, at least two faced fatal gender-based attacks (Victoria Marinova from Bulgaria and Karla Turcios from El Salvador). 

5. Local journalists are (predictably) the most vulnerable

Local journalists, particularly investigators, are by far the most vulnerable group among the range of media workers. Unlike prominent, foreign media correspondents, the former enjoy fewer protections and less of a media spotlight. 

Out of the 156 victims, only four were foreign correspondents – all of them died in war zones. 

6. Motives for the killings are hard to measure, but corruption plays a big role

The reasons behind the murders are difficult to measure, partly because some cases never see a proper investigation. The killings of most journalists are connected with their professional work in some way, though the report understandably doesn’t provide exact figures.

Corruption, broadly defined, seems to play a highly important role. The report emphasizes the role of “increasing intolerance towards reporting, fostered by a climate of endemic anti-press rhetoric, including by political leaders, and the influence of corruption and organized crime”.

Some journalists were killed in conflict zones. However, they constitute a minority of all cases. In 2019, 61% percent of killings occurred in countries with no armed conflict. Over the years, the proportion of media workers killed in countries with violent conflict has declined.

Figure from the report

7. “Impunity rate drops slightly” — but most cases are unresolved

The rate of impunity for journalist killings is declining, but the decrease seems to be only marginal. Based on the information provided by member states, UNESCO estimates the percentage of resolved cases worldwide at 13% in 2020, up from 11% two years earlier.

Despite the positive turn, this number means that the overwhelming majority of cases is not fully resolved. UNESCO did not receive information about a third of all killings, and 56% are ongoing or unresolved.

Arab States region shows the worst number, with 99% killings unresolved. Once again, Europe and North America exhibit the most positive trend, with a little over half of cases not resolved yet.

  • Read the full UNESCO report here (pdf)