The war in Ukraine and violence in Mexico, coupled with repressive laws and crackdowns from Russia to Myanmar, added up to a tough year for journalists.
Clayton Weimers, the Washington-based executive director with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said the watchdog has recorded steep declines for media.
“Unfortunately, we observed the sharpest increase in journalists who are being detained and held hostage and being killed around the world,” he told VOA.
“A lot of that can probably be attributed to the pandemic, so in 2022 you see a lot of quarantine bans being lifted, you see a lot of journalists going back out into the field covering stories, but what that also means is that they are back in elevated-risk areas,” he said.
“We also saw the expansion of a lot of violent conflicts in 2022, notably the war in Ukraine and the protests in Iran, both of which have been very deadly and dangerous zones for journalists to cover.”
Iran is one of the leading jailers of journalists in 2022, after Tehran cracked down on media covering mass protests. China and Myanmar also top the list. Globally, RSF documented 533 journalists detained this year and 57 killed.
The most deadly countries for the media were Mexico, Ukraine and Haiti.
Russia’s war in Ukraine left a huge mark, with Moscow imposing repressive laws aimed at stifling reporting, and iconic news outlets forced to close.
Shortly after it invaded Ukraine in February, Moscow issued orders to Russian journalists banning them from describing its actions as a “war” or “invasion.”
Access to foreign news websites, including parts of VOA’s Russian language content, was blocked inside the country, and the government enacted a new law carrying 15-year jail terms for anyone deemed to share “false news” on the conflict.
Russia blocked independent Russian media outlets including Echo Moscow and Dozhd TV, and many journalists went into exile.
For journalists inside Ukraine, the focus quickly turned to keeping staff safe and audiences informed.
Olga Rudenko is editor-in-chief of The Kyiv Independent, an English-language outlet founded just a few months before the war.
“It's never easy to cover any war, but especially so when it's a war that is in your country, and you're not just a journalist who arrives on the scene and then goes home to safety. But there is no safety for you. There is no safety for your family,” she told VOA earlier this year.
At least eight journalists were killed while on assignment in Ukraine, according to RSF. Many more were injured or died in shelling or after signing up to the armed forces to defend their country. Among those killed in shelling in Kyiv was Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Vira Hyrych.
But war zones aren’t the only danger for media. In Mexico, violence and the targeted killings of journalists led to the country's most deadly year. Media watchdogs there say the repercussions are wide.
“What worries us most is lethal violence,” Paula Saucedo of the rights group Article 19 told VOA. “Because when a journalist is killed, something known as a double murder happens: the murder of the person and the silencing of the stories and investigations that are not going to be told. It has a very strong, cascading effect of fear and censorship.”
Journalists inside Mexico have told VOA they feel vulnerable. Some now use messaging apps as informal support groups, to share information and try to keep each other safe.
Sonia de Anda, a Tijuana-based journalist and the co-director of the news site Esquina 32, repurposed a WhatsApp group named #YoSíSoyPeriodista, or “I am a journalist.”
“There are no guarantees for us journalists that prevent the day someone wants to come for one of us. Whoever wants to come for us does. And the worst thing is, there is no justice,” she told VOA earlier in 2022.
China continues to be a leading censor of media, and its influence is felt in Hong Kong. Analysts believe the high-profile trial of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is being used to send a message.
Lai is in prison after being convicted on fraud charges. He earlier served a sentence for unlawful assembly. Lai was due to stand trial on charges of foreign collusion, under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, but the case was postponed until late 2023.
“With these national security cases, it puts everybody on notice that if this could happen to somebody as prominent and as wealthy as Jimmy Lai, it can happen to anybody,” Keith Richburg, president of Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club, said ahead of Lai’s trial for fraud.
Elsewhere, repressive governments such as Afghanistan's seek to block access to credible news.
Afghanistan appeared on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual census of jailed journalists for the first time in 12 years in 2022, with three behind bars as of December 1. The Taliban have also sought to block access to independent media.
More than 215 of the country's 540 media outlets have closed because of financial, social and political problems, according to RSF data, and an estimated 80% of the country’s female journalists are no longer able to work.
“With the arrival of the Taliban, Afghanistan has lost its crowning achievement, which is the press freedom,” said Shaista Sadat Lami, of VOA’s Afghan Service. “Afghanistan was considered one of the best in the region. We were very proud of that achievement. Now it’s gone.”
The country ranks 156th out of 180 countries, where 1 shows the best media environment, according to the Press Freedom Index.
Sadat Lami said that VOA and other media refuse to be silenced, knowing that their audiences are turning to them for information.
“They trust us and they want to hear us. And no matter what, they will find us,” she told VOA.