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Almost two journalists a week have been killed over the last ten years trying to report the news, the first comprehensive survey on journalists' safety has found. The statistic is one of the main findings of the most comprehensive inquiry yet into the deaths of journalists and other news media professionals.

The survey was conducted between January 1996 and June 2006 by the International News Safety Institute (INSI), a coalition of media organisations, press freedom groups, unions and humanitarian campaigners. The full report, "Killing the Messenger," was released on 6 March 2007, and can be downloaded from the INSI website.

Only one in four journalists died in war and other armed conflicts. At least 657 men and women were murdered in peacetime - reporting the news in their own countries. In two-thirds of cases the killers were not even identified, and probably never will be.

"In many countries, murder has become the easiest, cheapest and most effective way of silencing troublesome reporting, and the more the killers get away with it the more the spiral of death is forced upwards," says INSI director Rodney Pinder. The BBC's Richard Sambrook, chair of the INSI inquiry, said: "The figures show that killing a journalist is virtually risk free."

The news media death toll has increased steadily since 2000. The last full year covered by the report, 2005, was a record with 147 dead. It has since emerged that 2006 was even worse, with 167 fatalities, according to INSI's annual tally.

The Top 21 bloodiest countries over the past decade have been Iraq (138), Russia (88), Colombia (72), Philippines (55), Iran (54), India (45), Algeria (32), the former republic of Yugoslavia (32), Mexico (31), Pakistan (29), Brazil (27), USA (21), Bangladesh (19), Ukraine (17), Nigeria, Peru, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka (16), Afghanistan, Indonesia and Thailand (13).

Shooting was by far the most frequent cause of death, accounting for almost half the total. Bombing, stabbing, beating, torture, strangulation and decapitation were also used to silence reporting. Some men and women disappeared, their fate unknown.

No one central authority regularly records the deaths of news media staff. INSI's researchers counted journalists as well as support workers - such as drivers, translators and office personnel, whether staff or freelance - provided they died because of their work. All causes of death were included, from murder through accidents to health-related causes.

INSI was invited to undertake the inquiry by press freedom and media support groups at a 2004 meeting in Geneva on the rising news media death toll around the world.

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