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Apr 27, 2015 11:06 AM

Report: Journalists face deadliest time 'in recent history'

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) Extremist groups and the governments that restrict liberties to combat those militants have created "the most deadly and dangerous period for journalists in recent history," according to a new report released Monday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists' annual report on press freedom is a collection of essays that spotlight Syria's deadly reporting landscape, censorship during the Ebola outbreak, the jailing of journalists in Egypt and Ethiopia, and even how journalists last year were used in extremists' propaganda films.

"These organizations are not merely producing videos," the report warns of groups like the Islamic State. "They are acting as competing media outlets."

The report also points out the inherent dangers as a rising number of freelance journalists cover wars with little protection or pay.

"At stake are not only journalists' lives but also the public's ability to know what's going on around them," CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour writes in the forward. She notes that over 1,000 journalists around the world have been killed since 1992, when the CPJ started counting. Many were freelancers or local journalists.

The media, like governments, are now hurrying to adapt to a world where almost anyone, including perpetrators, can live-stream the news. "There is now near-instant access to atrocities taking place across the world," the report says.

The Islamic State group may have made its name with dramatic videos of beheadings and other killings, but the report says other groups around the world are using similar approaches to show off and intimidate.

Boko Haram has promoted itself on YouTube, and some Mexican drug cartels started doing the same years ago.

Some videos appear to be explicit threats to the media. "The decapitated head of one online journalist killed in 2011 in the border city of Nuevo Laredo was posed wearing headphones and set next to a keyboard," an essay by CPJ's Joel Simon and Samantha Libby says.

Boko Haram even turned a hugely popular social media campaign into pointed messaging. After the group's abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria last year led to the #BringBackOurGirls outcry, one Boko Haram video showed the group's leader laughing and dancing while saying, "Bring back our army."

Such videos also hurt government narratives that claim success in fighting extremist or criminal groups, the report says. Eventually, as Nigerian journalists stopped reporting on Boko Haram under government pressure, the group began attacking them and even bombing their offices.

In both Nigeria and Mexico, "the militants have intensive interest in ensuring media coverage, whereas governments seek to suppress it," the report says. "Journalists in both countries are caught in the middle."

As reporting gets more challenging, the report says journalists are going to new lengths to protect themselves and their sources, from finding technical ways to evade government surveillance to paying bodyguards as a buffer against corrupt politicians.

In one essay, Tom Lowenthal of the CPJ argues that these efforts can be expensive and psychologically exhausting. "When journalists must compete with spies and surveillance, even when they win, society loses," he writes.

The report also discusses the worrying lack of coverage in chaotic Libya, Internet restrictions in the Middle East and the "subtle weapons" of censorship in Singapore, among other issues.


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