"Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical," the organization's head, Christophe Deloire, said in a statement which accompanied the report's release.
"The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen, has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists."
Deloire added that social media networks "bear heavy responsibility" as they amplified expressions of hatred that "legitimize violence, thereby undermining journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day."
Afghanistan was the world's deadliest country for journalists and media members in 2018 with 15 deaths, the report said. Nine of the deaths occurred during a double bombing on April 30, which was the world's deadliest attack on reporters since the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines. That attack killed 32 journalists.
Nearly half the media fatalities occurred in countries not at war, including Mexico, India and the United States. Mexico remains the deadliest country not at war for journalists, with nine murdered in 2018. Six journalists were murdered in India, the report said, and "many others were the targets of murder attempts, physical attacks and threats."
In the US, four journalists were among the five employees of the Capital Gazette who were killed in a shooting at the local newspaper's headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland. Two others were killed in South Carolina by a falling tree during subtropical storm Alberto.
DW journalists speak out on freedom of expression
China remains the biggest jailer of journalists with 60 currently being held, according to RSF. A majority of them are non-professional journalists, who the report says "are being held in often inhuman conditions for nothing more than a post on social networks or messaging services."
The other leaders in journalist incarcerations include Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Despite having released many non-professional and professional reporters, Turkey continues to be the world's biggest jailer of professional journalists, the report said. It added: "The fall in the number of detainees, compared with this time last year, is deceptive."
Of the 60 journalists currently being held hostage, only one is outside the Middle East — Stanislav Aseyev, a Ukrainian journalist who has been held by the self-proclaimed "Donetzk People's Republic" since 2017 on the suspicion of spying.
The so-called Islamic State, which currently is holding 24 journalists, remains the world's largest hostage-taker, followed by Yemen's Houthi rebels with 16, the report said.
RSF said three journalists are currently missing: Agustin Silva Vazquez, missing since January 21 in Mexico; Vladjimir Legagneur, missing since March 14 in Haiti; and Leonid Makhinia, missing since June 7 in Russia.