Canaries in a Coal Mine: What the killings of journalists tell us about future repression

Anita R. Gohdes and Sabine C. Carey. 2017. Journal of Peace Research. Vol 54(2): 157-174

Can the government’s infringements of the rights of journalists tell us anything about its wider human rights agenda? The killing of a journalist is a sign for deteriorating respect for human rights. If a government orders the killing of a journalist, it is willing to use extreme measures to eliminate the threat posed by the uncontrolled flow of information. If non-state actors murder journalists, it reflects insecurity, which can lead to a backlash by the government, again triggering state-sponsored repression. We introduce a new global dataset on killings of journalists between 2002 and 2013, which uses three different sources that track such events across the world. The new data show that mostly local journalists are targeted and that in most cases the perpetrators remain unconfirmed. Particularly in countries with limited repression, human rights conditions are likely to deteriorate in the two years following the killing of a journalist. When journalists are killed, human rights conditions are unlikely to improve where standard models of human rights would expect an improvement.
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