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Semafor LogoMax Tani
Max Tani
mediaMiddle East

Journalists are being jailed and killed in record numbers

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A record number of journalists — 533 — are currently being detained worldwide, according to a new report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) first shared with Semafor.

The number of detained women journalists has also risen to a record-breaking total of 78, a nearly 30% increase from 2021, the press advocacy organization said.

At least 57 journalists were killed while working this year, a nearly 19% increase from last year; 65 journalists are currently being held hostage, and 49 reporters are missing, according to RSF.

The organization blamed emboldened authoritarian governments for the rise in detentions and harsh sentences, and said an increase in deaths was caused by the war in Ukraine, protests in Iran, and the end of global lockdowns due to COVID-19 and the return to reporting in person.

“It’s pretty depressing,” RSF USA executive director Clayton Weimers said in an interview.

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Notably, RSF said governments were increasingly detaining women reporting in the field, a sign of both increasing gender parity in journalism, and more aggressive moves by governments opposed to press freedoms. Women now represent nearly 15% of journalists detained globally, compared to less than 7% five years ago.

“We’re seeing more equality in the field as a whole, but now women are facing increased risk as a result,” Weimers said. “What’s clear is the harshest regimes when it comes to cracking down on press freedom aren’t making any difference between men and women — they will detain or kill either way.”

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While threats to the press are nothing new, global organizations continue to sound the alarm that actual violence against journalists and crackdowns on reporters are getting worse. The International Federation of Journalists released new data this week which also tracked a rise in violence and found that 67 journalists had been killed in 2022.

And though authoritarian governments are overwhelmingly to blame, prominent political figures in the U.S. who offer rhetorical support for press freedom also bear some responsibility for their role in failing to ensure that anti-free speech governments abroad do not feel emboldened to act with impunity.

Press freedom groups have pointed to President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East earlier this year as an example of softness around confronting anti-press regimes. Far from making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi as Biden promised to do on the campaign trail, he fist-bumped the kingdom’s ruler during his trip.

The White House said the president raised the subject of Khashoggi’s death  during his trip, but officials indicated that both sides acknowledged they needed to “move past” it in order to work towards more important issues like lowering gas prices. The strategy clearly didn’t work: Saudi Arabia lobbied to dramatically cut oil production right before the midterm elections, despite pleas from top White House officials.

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