Of the 56, the committee said, 36 were targeted for murder, continuing a long-term trend in annual surveys of the safety of journalists.
"The majority of them are murdered," said Ann Cooper, executive director of the committee, in an interview with AP Radio. "Local journalists such as eight killed in the Philippines. They were hunted down and killed."
The profession became more hazardous in other ways as well, as government intrusions on a free press increased in Russia and all the other former Soviet republics except the three Baltic states, and 122 journalists — 42 of them in China — were imprisoned for their reporting. A reporter was jailed for job-related reasons in the United States for the first time in three years.
For China, Cooper said. "That's a record. It's been the world's leading jailer of journalists for several years."
In releasing the report, "Attacks on the Press in 2004," the advocacy group said:
"Nowhere are new, harsh realities more evident than in Russia, where a purge of independent voices on national television and an alarming suppression of news coverage during the Beslan (school) hostage crisis marked a year in which President Vladimir Putin increasingly exerted Soviet-style control over the media."
Only in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, tiny Baltic states subsumed into the Soviet Union in 1940, have traditions of strong press freedom been established, the report said.
In the other 12 former Soviet republics, it said, controls on the press are more stringent than at any time since the closing years of Soviet communism. The rise of a pro-Western government in Ukraine following street demonstrators gives hope for change there, however, the report said.
The 56 dead journalists were the most since 66 died in 1994. Many of those were victims of fighting in Algeria's civil war in which a military-backed government prevailed over Muslim extremists.
In early December the committee reported 54 deaths in 2004 but spokeswoman Wacuka Mungai said the group confirmed two more deaths by the end of the year.
She also said a Brussels-based group, the International Federation of Journalists, which reported 129 media professionals killed in 2004 uses a different way of counting, including accidents and persons who may have been involved in political work.
Iraq remained by far the most dangerous country for journalists, and 2004 featured a dramatic shift of the risk of death in combat to native Iraqi journalists. Most of the 23 reporters killed were Iraqis, and the committee said nine of the 23 were murdered.
"The toll made the war in Iraq one of the deadliest conflicts for journalists in recent history," the report said.
Most of the reporters jailed were locked up on vague "anti-state" charges, such as sedition, subversion and working against the interests of the state.
Besides China, Cuba with 23, Eritrea with 17 and Myanmar with 11 accounted for more than three-quarters of the 122 imprisoned. The only American sentenced is Jim Taricani of WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., serving six months' home confinement for refusing to reveal a source.