NEW YORK The number of journalists killed around the world in 2009 rose to a record 68 after a massacre in the Philippines, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Thursday.
The press freedom group said the 2009 tally compared to 42 deaths in 2008 and surpassed the previous record of 67 deaths in 2007 -- when violence was at its worst in Iraq, which had been the deadliest country for journalists for six years.
This year Iraq dropped to No. 3 on the list of deadliest countries with four journalist deaths, the lowest annual tally recorded since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003.
The Philippines topped the list with 32 deaths -- 31 of which happened during a massacre in the South of the country in November. Somalia, which western security agencies say has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign extremists, came in second with nine media deaths.
"This has been a year of unprecedented devastation for the world's media, but the violence also confirms long-term trends," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Most victims were local reporters covering news in their own communities.
"The perpetrators assumed, based on precedent, that they would never be punished. Whether the killings are in Iraq or the Philippines, in Russia or Mexico, changing this assumption is the key to reducing the death toll," he said.
All but two of the 2009 victims were local journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
The journalists murdered in the Philippines massacre were among 57 people killed after they were stopped at a checkpoint while on their way to file a candidate's nomination for elections next year.
"The killings in the Philippines are a shocking but not entirely surprising product of a long-term reality: The government has allowed unpunished violence against journalists, most of it politically motivated, to become part of the culture," said CPJ's Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz.
Four journalists were killed in Pakistan, three in Russia, two in Sri Lanka and Mexico and one in Venezuela, Nepal, Madagascar, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, El Salvador, Colombia, Israel and the Palestinian Territory, Iran, Afghanistan and Kenya.
About three-quarters of the journalists killed in 2009 were targeted in retaliation for their work, 11 journalists were killed in crossfire during combat situations and seven died covering dangerous assignments such as raids or protests.
Another 20 journalist deaths from 2009 are still being investigated by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which began compiling records of media deaths in 1992, and a final 2009 tally will be released in January.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)