Forty-nine journalists were killed this year, 57 are being held hostage and 389 are currently in prison, nonprofit group Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday.
In its annual review, the Paris-based group found that the number of journalists killed in 2019 was the lowest since 2003, representing a “historically low” figure compared with an average of 80 journalists killed per year over the past two decades.
The fall in the number of journalists killed is due to a reduction in the number of journalists killed in war zones, Reporters Without Borders said, noting that 941 journalists have been killed over the past 10 years.
While conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan were less deadly for journalists than in previous years, the number of deaths in countries not at war remained “much the same” as in previous years, the group noted.
Some 63% of journalists killed worldwide were murdered or deliberately targeted, Reporters Without Borders added.
In Mexico, 10 journalists were killed in 2019 — the same as in 2018. With at least 14 journalists killed in Latin America overall this year, the group noted that the region was now as deadly for reporters as the Middle East.
In its report, Reporters Without Borders noted that a further eight journalists had been murdered in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and Haiti, but they had yet to be added to the annual roundup pending verification.
Natalie Southwick, the Central and South America program coordinator for New York-based NGO the Committee to Protect Journalists, told CNN Business that while the region isn’t a typical active war zone, “the rate of violence is equivalent.”
Central and South America is “a region where there are really high levels of endemic violence across the board, across a lot of countries — even though they’re not a conflict zone,” Southwick said.
“A lot of what you’re dealing with is threats from organized crime,” she added. “It’s shifted. The state, historically, has been one of the main aggressors, main perpetrators against journalists … but we’re seeing, especially in places where the state isn’t really present, [that] there’s a much stronger presence of organized crime that’s becoming the main threat.”
Reporters focusing on environmental issues in the region — such as the Amazon fires — are also increasingly getting caught up in dangerous situations, Southwick said. “Journalists reporting on those issues and on activists are being caught up in the same kind of threats that the activists themselves are facing,” she added.
Southwick said it was essential that governments push back against organized crime and impunity. “They [organized crime gangs] see that there are no consequences for killing journalists — that sends a message that they can continue getting away with it.”
“We welcome the unprecedented fall in the number of journalists killed in war zones but, at the same time, more and more journalists are being deliberately murdered in connection with their work in democratic countries, which poses a real challenge for the democracies where these journalists live and work,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
The organization also noted that the number of journalists who had been arbitrarily detained was 12% higher than in 2018, with 389 journalists in prison connected to their work as of December 1.
China, the report said, holds a third of arbitrarily detained journalists.
CNN’s Bianca Britton contributed to this story.