By Kathy Jones

NEW YORK - More than three quarters of the 99 journalists and media workers killed worldwide in 2023 died in the Israel-Gaza war, the majority of them Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. The conflict claimed the lives of more journalists in three months than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Investigating the circumstances of these war-related deaths – which also included three Lebanese and two Israeli journalists – was particularly challenging, not only because of the large number of deaths in a short time, but also because of the loss of those who could have provided more information. Many journalist victims’ families were killed along with them in Gaza, their colleagues died or fled, and Israeli military authorities adamantly deny targeting journalists or provide only scant information when they acknowledge press killings. Critical information about their lives and work may have been lost forever.

The 2023 global total – the highest since 2015 and an almost 44% increase on 2022’s figures – includes a record number of journalist killings – 78 – that CPJ research determined were work-related, with eight more still under investigation. Thirteen media workers also were killed last year.

Once the deaths in Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon are excluded, killings dropped markedly compared to 2022, when CPJ documented a total of 69 deaths, 43 of which were work-related. Outside of the deaths in the Israel-Gaza war, 22 journalists and media workers were killed worldwide in 2023. CPJ’s research confirmed that 13 of those deaths were work-related; the circumstances around the remaining deaths are still being investigated. In the 18 other nations where journalists were killed in 2023, CPJ documented one to two deaths in each.

However, the declining number is not an indication that journalism has become safer in other parts of the world. Indeed, CPJ’s annual prison census found that 2023 jailings of journalists – another key indicator of conditions for journalists and press freedom – remain close to record highs established in 2022.

Divisive elections, rising authoritarianism, ongoing conflicts, and powerful and expanding organized crime networks create conditions that continue to put journalists in peril. In some nations, these threats have become entrenched, resulting in the killings of at least one journalist a year for decades.

Targeted killings of journalists in direct reprisal for their work, which CPJ classifies as murder, also persisted in 2023, with CPJ recording journalist murders in nine countries around the world.

In Mexico, where corruption and organized crime have long made it especially hard to determine whether a journalist’s killing was work-related, the country’s overall number of deaths fell from a record of 13 in 2022 to two in 2023. Nonetheless, journalists continued to face attacks, harassment, threats, and abduction, with a soon-to-be-published joint report by Amnesty International Mexico and CPJ finding that Mexico “has remained one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.”

Ukraine’s wartime decrease in journalist killings, from 13 work-related deaths in 2022 to two in 2023, may be due to factors such as improved training and safety awareness, Ukrainian authorities’ introduction of stricter accreditation rules for frontline work, and the stabilization of combat zones. Nevertheless journalists in Ukraine remain at great risk and early 2024 has already seen missile strikes that have injured journalists and attacks that may be targeted.

And while killings in regions outside the Middle East have mostly dropped, the death rate in sub-Saharan Africa has held steady, with six journalists killed per year since 2021. These totals include both deaths deemed to be work-related and killings still under investigation.