Can we protect journalists reporting on corruption?

Journalism now is believed to be added to the list of the most dangerous professions. Within the last several years the number of attacks and assassinations of journalists has increased dramatically, pulling a great amount of attention to the problem. The «perfect» system, where journalism is the legit third power that has a right to criticize or at the very least cover all aspects of the other powers performance is, unfortunately, seems to be getting further, than closer.

Investigative journalism is one of the most common fields for journalists to get threats on an almost daily basis. This complex topic was up for a discussion in the Sala delle Collone on Friday. A conversation moderated by Tom Gibson featured three outstanding professionals in the field of investigative journalism: Cecilia Anesi, Beata Balogova and Pavla Holcova.

With the cases of Jan Kuciak and Daphne Caruana Galizia and roughly 38 other journalists murdered only in 2018, it becomes a severe problem, which requires some sort of a solution. But unfortunately, so far the question of the journalists’ security is an open question. It’s quite apparent what usually when they get threatened people seek protection from the law enforcement, police or government. But what are they supposed to do when they are getting threatened by the government or law enforcement themselves?

Journalists under fire are continually facing the threats and obstacles from the powerful opponents: government, businessmen, large corporations, organized crime groups. It’s not a problem of one particular country or a couple of them — it is common trouble that appears in many different ways. Journalists are put under tremendous psychological pressure as soon as they put the foot on the path of serious investigation.

In the case of Jan Kuciak, the journalist got a threat from a businessman who’s now being accused of orchestrating his murder. Six months later Kuciak was shot dead in his own flat. To threaten a journalist and then get him killed — it is pretty obvious, too obvious to be done, but it only makes the situation scarier. If the obviousness doesn’t stop the assault, then what can? The government turning into a mafia government doesn’t seem too promising for the journalists. Pavla Holcova stressed out that it’s only 10% of the murders which were investigated, and who knows if the others will be investigated later?

One more serious issue for the investigating journalists is to find a platform to actually publish their investigations. «We are not a media, we are an organized group of freelancers,» says Cecilia Anesi, the co-founder of IRPI, «and large media were not interested in publishing some of our researches, because they didn’t want to take risks».

But the real trouble starts when the government states the open war to the media, and Beata Balogova stressed it out especially. When a politician shows that it’s okay to harass and threaten journalists verbally, there is a much higher probability that someone else will go further and decide that pulling a trigger is not that different from just threatening to do so. This also creates a very hostile and unfriendly atmosphere public-wise: the rate of the trust for journalists is getting lower with every move made against them during the festivals of hate the politicians can put the media through. They are just journalists, they have to take it because it’s their work — when a phrase like this becomes a norm, something needs to be done.

But what can be done in the field of protecting the journalists who work with powerful interests and are getting calls on their personal phones with threats to their lives? This was the final and most essential question of the panel. Beata Balogova mentioned that the media landscape has to have both big and small players cooperating: there are many independent media companies which hare yet pretty small and can’t really break the bubble of ignorance without the help of the bigger traditional media. Cooperation is the key to a healthy media system — as well as the unity in front of possible threats.

It is also important to have some kind of support from society, Pavla Holcova comments. Maybe if the society would stand up for journalists, the journalists won’t have to fight two fronts at the same time.

The question of investigating journalists security and the hostile atmosphere that is created so far by the pressure leads to many other issues, like excessive self-censorship, police ignorance on how to deal with threats to journalists and more. Protecting journalists from getting hunted for doing their job as a third power is still a trouble pending for solution, and the professional community hopes to be on the way to find one.

(Due to security reasons, this talk was not live streamed and was not photo covered.)