Murders of European journalists are 'shocking wake-up call'

  1. "Without a guarantee of press safety, there cannot be press freedom" – Hannah Storm
  2. In the most recent Press Freedom Index, Europe as a whole saw the largest drop in press freedoms – even as it remains the safest area for journalists

For World Press Freedom Day, WikiTribune interviewed experts who are concerned with a rise in the number of investigative journalists killed in European Union (EU) member states.

Of the five EU journalists murdered in the last 10 years, two were killed in the last seven months.

First, Maltese investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car-bomb while leaving her home in Bidnija, Malta in October 2017.

Four months later, Slovakian reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, were shot dead in Kuciak’s home in a small village near the capital, Bratislava, in February 2018.

The killings have much in common; both have been classified as murders by the Committee to Protect Journalists and occurred in countries which have been EU member states since 2004. Neither country has seen any journalists murdered in connection with their work before.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

On the morning of her murder, Daphne Caruana Galizia had posted on her blog, Running Commentary, about an ongoing political scandal surrounding current Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Figures close to the prime minister had been named in the Panama Papers, leaked in 2016, as owners of offshore companies.

Just two months following her death, three Maltese men, Alfred Degiorgio, his brother George, and Vince Muscat (no relation to the prime minister), were charged with murder. The three men have all pleaded not guilty, and their trial is ongoing (Malta Today).

Earlier this month, Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit organization which aims to continue the work of murdered, imprisoned or otherwise incapacitated reporters, launched The Daphne Project to continue Caruana Galizia’s work and further investigate her death.

The project involves 45 journalists from 18 organizations, across 15 countries.

Among the first new material released was an interview with Peter Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s husband, who told The Guardian that he believes the mastermind of his wife’s murder is being protected.

“It’s clear to us that the three men arraigned so far are contractors commissioned by a third party,” he said.

Jan Kuciak

The primary focus of Jan Kuciak’s work was organized tax fraud and the embezzlement of EU funds by business people associated with Slovakia’s former Prime Minister Robert Fico who leads the Direction – Social Democracy Party.

Kuciak’s final article, unfinished at the time of his murder, claimed that Italian mafia group ‘Ndrangheta, listed by a 2013 Europol threat assessment as “among the richest and most powerful organized crime groups at a global level,” had been active in Eastern Slovakia.

Like Caruana Galizia, some of Kuciak’s subjects had been named in the Panama Papers.

Fico himself had previously referred to reporters as “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” in 2016 when asked about allegations of misspent funds (Politico).

In the ongoing investigation into his death, a prosecutor who asked not to be named, told Reuters in March that Kuciak and his partner’s deaths suggested signs of being a “contract killing.”

While Prime Minister Fico resigned in March, following wide public protests over the murders and Slovakia’s national police chief Tibor Gaspar is also set to resign by the end of May, no-one has yet been charged with Kuciak and Kusnirova’s murders.

What has the EU done so far?

The EU guarantees its member states both media freedom and pluralism in Article 11 in its Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, told The Guardian last month that “six months after her killing, it does not appear that the Maltese authorities have made any progress to identify the masterminds.”

On the same day, 573 of the European Parliament’s 751 members backed a resolution in Strasbourg calling for the better protection of investigative journalists in Europe (EuObserver).

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said on April 23 that she would visit Malta to investigate government moves against money laundering, and to check on the investigation into Galizia’s death.

Regarding Kuciak’s murder, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani called on Slovakia to “launch a thorough investigation with international support if needed” and added that “the European Parliament will not rest until justice is done.”

Member states still have responsibility

According to a number of people interviewed by WikiTribune, the onus is still on the governments of member states themselves to protect press freedom.

“It is primarily the responsibility of Member States to protect media freedom and pluralism within their respective countries … we urge the responsible authorities to continue the ongoing investigation up and until the persons responsible for this crime have been found and justice is served,” Christian Wigand, an EU spokesman specializing in justice and rule of law, told WikiTribune.

“The European Commission acts as a facilitator, for example by financing independent projects offering practical support to journalists under threat and monitoring the situation of media freedom and pluralism in Europe.”

“We need more than words”

Hannah Storm, the director of the International News Safety Institute, believes a greater EU role is necessary to direct the investigations to conclusion.

“This is down to ensuring that every killing of a journalist is investigated thoroughly, impartially, and independently,” she told WikiTribune.

“The European Union and other bodies in Europe need to have a robust and open line of communication with law authorities in countries where journalists are attacked to make sure this is happening … it’s not enough to wait until one of our colleagues is murdered or maimed. We need these individuals and bodies to advocate about the importance of press freedom and its crucial role in supporting democracy.”

“Without a guarantee of press safety, there cannot be press freedom, and without that democracy suffers,” she said.

Europe falls in Press Freedom Index

In the most recent Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Europe as a whole saw the largest drop in press freedoms, even as the region remains the safest for journalists. The index highlighted that leaders of some EU member states show signs of hostility to journalists and their work.

Following the murders, Malta fell 18 places to 65th in the rankings, and Slovakia 10 places to 27th.
Nine other EU countries, including Hungary, Spain, and Denmark, also fell in the rankings this year.

According to experts, this shows that the EU is not as safe for journalists as many had previously thought.

“It’s clear that this shows reporting in and around Europe can be dangerous and difficult, far more so than many people realize,” Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine, told WikiTribune.

“The two killings of investigative reporters within the EU in a six-month period is a shocking wake-up call for those who thought that the EU was relatively safe for journalists. Media professionals work under threat all the time.”

“We are definitely concerned about the legal process in Malta, where police are investigating the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia,” she said.

“We would call on the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), the EU, and the Council of Europe to keep a close watch on that trial to make sure it is carried out without the thoroughness that the family demand, and with the understanding that the eyes of the rest of the EU are upon them.”

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