Safety training for journalists in conflicts areas is increasing, but the new challenge for press freedom is authoritarian regimes

WASHINGTON – The number of journalists killed last year was the lowest – 65 – in the last 14 years, but too many journalists still go into conflict areas without training on how to mitigate the risks, experts say. And a new threat to press freedom is on the rise: populist or authoritarian leaders who attack the news media while spreading propaganda.

The 65 journalists who lost their lives worldwide in 2017 compared with 79 in 2016.

Awareness of the need to protect journalists and better prepare them for dealing with risky situations is rising. Media organizations and newspapers increasingly provide security training for their journalists before they travel to conflict areas.

“Though violence and abuses against journalists decreased in 2017, Reporters Without Border’s figures show that 65 journalists were killed, and 54 are held hostage,“ said  Margaux Ewen, U.S. executive director of Reporters Without Borders. “The United Nations has passed several resolutions on the safety of journalists since 2006 and many news organizations have adopted safety procedures. “

In 2017, Syria continued to be the world’s deadliest country for journalists, which has been true since 2012, with 12 killed, and Mexico was in second place with 11 death tolls despite it is not war-torn country.

While media companies are providing – and paying for – more journalists to get safety training, freelancers and citizen journalists often feel they can’t afford it.  “Many … local journalists work and live in conflict zones or in other nations where journalists are violently attacked and killed with impunity, “according to Frank Smyth, executive director of Global Journalist Security. “These include failed states like Somalia, states with repressive activities like Russia and democratic nations like Bangladesh and Brazil.”

But some nonprofits like A Culture of Safety Alliance are now helping fund freelancer training for hostile environments.

Tunahan Ozkan, a Turkish reporter for, was wounded in a car bomb explosion last month in northern Syria, while covering conflicts between the Turkish Army and Kurdish guerillas.

“Even though I have four years’ experience in journalism, it was my first time in a hostile environment. I had not received journalism security training before I go to the region,” said Ozkan. “If I would have trained in challenges on covering in conflict region, I am sure that I would have been more aware of attacks or bombings and maybe I would not been wounded.”

Journalism security challenges have shifted in recent years. In the past, most national armies and even some irregular groups held journalists hostage, but did not torture or kill them. Today, terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida consider the murder of journalists as little different from the slaughter of civilians.

Arch Puddington, a distinguished scholar for Freedom House, says terrorist groups are more likely to view reporters as aligned with their enemies – countries like the U.S..  “This is especially true in an era of citizen journalists who make clear their political partisanship and authoritarian leaders have made journalists a prime target … leading to arrests and imprisonment,” Puddington said. “Clearly, the conditions under which journalists work in conflict zones and in polarized societies has declined substantially since the beginning of the 21st century.”

The rise of populist or authoritarian leaders is a new threat freedom of press on the global scale. “Claiming to speak “for the people,” populist leaders have learned that they can control and intimidate the press, weaken its role, and spread propaganda,” said Ewen.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 262 journalists were jailed in 2017, with half behind the bars in just three countries: China, Egypt and Turkey.

In addition to pressure on journalists in non-democratic countries, some democratic countries dropped in the 2017 World Press Freedom index  The U.S. and Canada   – countries which are known to have a high standard for press freedom – were ranked 43th 22th and respectively.

“The obsession with surveillance and the violations of the right to confidential sources have contributed to the continuing decline of countries which Reporters Without Borders previously regarded as safe havens for press freedom, ” said Ewen. “On a global level, we are concerned that violations of press freedom are occurring more frequently in countries that were once considered models of democratic governance. “