If you were asked to list the most dangerous jobs in the world, I suspect journalism would not feature highly. But the truth is that journalism is fast becoming a highly dangerous profession.

The UK Foreign Office reports that 2018 was the “deadliest year for journalists” with 99 killed, 348 detailed, and 60 taken hostage. Many of these incidents happen in conflict zones, but not all.

Just six months ago Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for a routine appointment to collect some documents. Although the exact details of what met him inside are unknown, it is widely believed he was executed and dismembered by agents connected to the Saudi government. A year before Khashoggi’s murder, the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated when a bomb was detonated in her car. On both occasions, their murder was as a direct result of their journalism.

Last night, at the Legatum Institute in London, I announced the recipient of the Courage in Journalism Award. This award was founded in honour of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Daphne’s son Paul was a colleague of ours at the Institute and we established the award to honour Daphne’s legacy and to highlight the dangers facing journalists around the world.

The award is given posthumously to a journalist who has been killed in the last year as a direct result of doing their job. The recipient this year was Ján Kuciak, a Slovakian investigative reporter who was murdered because of his reporting into organised crime, tax fraud, and links between the Italian mafia and Slovakian politicians. Kuciak and his fiancée were shot and killed in their home on 21 February 2018.

Journalist deaths in the UK are mercifully rare. But the death of Lyra McKee 12 days ago in Derry brought this issue very close to home. And the reality is, journalists all over the world are increasingly becoming a target for kidnap, attack, and even death. Speaking at last night’s event, Christina Lamb, the Sunday Times Chief Foreign Correspondent said that since 9/11, journalists have increasingly become targeted by insurgent groups.

Ján Kuciak was among 70 journalists considered for the award this year. Commenting last night, Lord Freud, one of the judges, described reading through the full list as one of the most unpleasant jobs he has ever done. Freud was joined on the judging panel by Christina Lamb, Mike Thomson, Con Coughlin, Kate Clark, and Abeer Saady.

Most measures of human progress are moving in the right direction. Over just a few generations, many deadly diseases have been eradicated, there are fewer people in poverty today than ever before, and we are living longer and healthier lives than at any point in history. But on the issue of press freedom, the trend is moving in entirely the other direction.

Data from the global Prosperity Index show that, over the past 15 years about two-thirds of countries have experienced a decline in press freedom. In addition, the most recent global report on press freedom states that “global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 13 years.” That same report goes on to say that today only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press.

This should worry all of us. The decline of press freedom is the canary in the coal mine for the health of a society. The vital role journalists play in society can be taken for granted but when a country’s media is free to thrive it holds powerful leaders to account, brings truth into the light, and keeps citizens informed on matters of pubic importance. Put simply, a free press is fundamental for a free and thriving society.

It is for this reason that we should celebrate instances where press freedom is advancing. One of the reasons Jan Kuciak was selected by the judges to receive the Courage in Journalism Award was because of the impact his death has had on his country, Slovakia.

Less than a month after his death, tens of thousands of Slovaks took to the streets to demand an end to corruption and the resignation of then Prime Minister Robert Fico. These protests continued in Bratislava and around the country for many months and ultimately led to Fico’s resignation and that of several members of his cabinet.

Kuciak’s death and the subsequent protests also inspired political outsider Zuzana Caputova to run for president. During her campaign, Caputova’s message was strongly pro-free press. Last week she was sworn in a Slovakia’s first female President.

Clearly, it should not take the murder of a journalist for a nation to wake up to the importance of a free press – as it has in Slovakia. But what is happening there should give us cause for optimism.

Jan Kuciak was only 27 when he was murdered. But his short life and premature death has changed the trajectory of Slovakia forever. For this reason, he is a worthy recipient of this year’s Courage in Journalism Award.

Nathan Gamester is the Chief Operating Officer at the Legatum Institute