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Group Says 2009 Was a 'Bad Year' for Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 71 were killed, many in an attack in the Philippines. Also, an award goes to the video showing Iranian protester Neda Agha-Soltan. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least seventy-one members of the media were killed last year around the world. A single act of political violence in the Philippines raised the number sharply compared to the year before. In November, gunmen killed nearly sixty people, including more than thirty journalists and media support workers. Philippine officials recently charged about two hundred suspects.

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It was the single deadliest attack on journalists since the committee began keeping detailed records in nineteen ninety-two. The group, based in New York, released its latest report this week. The next deadliest countries in the top five were Somalia with nine killings, Iraq and Pakistan with four each and Russia with three.

Robert Mahoney from the Committee to Protect Journalists says last year was not only a bad year for deaths.

ROBERT MAHONEY: "It was also a bad year for authoritarian and repressive governments putting journalists behind bars. We saw an increase in the number of journalists imprisoned. Some one hundred thirty-six were imprisoned when we did our census in December and since then, things have gotten worse."

He pointed to the repression in Iran after the disputed presidential election in June. The group says more than ninety journalists were seized. Twenty-three remained in jail at the end of December. Iran is described as the second largest jailer of journalists after China.

Among those imprisoned in Iran was Newsweek magazine reporter Maziar Bahari. His jailers kept him by himself for one hundred eighteen days. He says Iranian officials are now turning their attention to bloggers.

MAZIAR BAHARI: "I think the government of Iran, in the beginning it did not pay attention to the cyberspace, but recently they have passed a series of cyber crime laws and digital crime laws, that also includes the mobile texts and any kind of digital, as they call it "misinformation", that can be criminalized."

The Committee to Protect Journalists says bloggers in China are also under attack. Bob Dietz, an Asia expert with the group, says most Chinese journalists who are in jail now are there because of online activity.

But the group says the number of journalists jailed in China is down from a high of forty-two six years ago to about twenty-four today. Those who report on corruption are now considered more likely to lose their job than go to jail.

The report also documents abuses in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

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Today, anyone can bring news to the world over the Internet. Millions of people saw the video of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman shot to death in June during the protests in Iran. This week, Long Island University announced that the video will receive a George Polk Award. The awards are among the highest in American journalism.

It will recognize whoever recorded the video and uploaded it to the Internet. This is the first honor for a work whose creator is unknown in the sixty-one year history of the Polk Awards.

Another winner this year is a New York Times reporter who was held by the Taliban for more than seven months. David Rohde was kidnapped in Afghanistan and taken to Pakistan, where he escaped.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake and available online at I'm Mario Ritter.