When the committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched its 2015 Global Impunity Index—a survey of countries with the worst records for solving the murders of journalists—it was no surprise that Mexico, a country with a long track record of violence against journalists and pervasive impunity, held a spot among the top 10, as it has almost every year since the annual survey was first published in 2008, What may appear more surprising was that this year Mexico registered a slight improvement, moving from seventh to eighth on the global ranking despite the fact that journalists have been murdered in Mexico nearly every single year of the last decade and in only one case has a suspect been prosecuted. Moreover the pace of killing journalists is showing no sign of slowing down. So far, 2015 has recorded the highest number of murders in Mexico since CPJ began tracking data on journalist casualties in 1992.
A closer analysis of Mexico’s movement down the list, however, is telling not of a significant improvement in Mexico’s climate or successful prosecutions, but of a spread of impunity and violence against the media.
Despite Violence, Journalists in Mexico Innovate to Report
CPJ’s Global Impunity Index ranks countries according to their proportion of unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants over a 10-year period (September 1, 2005-August 31, 2015). It includes all states with five or more unsolved murders—that is when no suspects have been convicted nor killed in apprehension.
The discouraging truth behind Mexico’s change in ranking is that other countries are sustaining and/or increasing their high rates of impunity and new countries have joined the list. The entrée this year of South Sudan to the index for the first time at number five, following an ambush that killed five journalists in January, pushed Mexico and several other countries down a notch.
Underscoring the increasing dangers of writing about religion and other sensitive cultural issues, five bloggers in Bangladesh have been murdered; four of them hacked to death, for their online writing on these issues. Culture is also a common beat among journalists who have been targeted and killed in Somalia, which is number one on the index this year for the first time.
Worldwide, more than 360 journalists have been targeted and killed for their work over the last decade and the perpetrators get away with it in nine out of 10 cases. Geographically, anti-press violence and impunity is an issue that cuts across all regions but it is surprisingly concentrated in a relatively small number of countries. The 14 countries on this year’s index account for 83 percent of unsolved journalist murders worldwide during the 10-year period the index covers. Nine of these countries have, like Mexico, repeatedly appeared on the index every year since the first edition in 2008.
There are some encouraging signs in the data. The number of convictions of suspects behind journalist murders, though still few and far between, has been higher over the last few years than a decade ago. This year there have been five convictions in journalist murders compared with one in 2005. Colombia fell off the index after holding a place for seven years. Though its improvement can be largely attributed to a general decrease in political violence and the government’s protection program for journalists, some cases have been resolved, including the prosecution of the mastermind behind the murder of editor and columnist Orlando Sierra.
Meanwhile, the fight against impunity has been shored up by recent interest at the United Nations. The U.N. has called for states to address impunity by mobilizing governments, the media, and civil society and U.N. agencies. Now journalists and advocates must monitor progress.