Friday

15th Feb 2019

Opinion

A prize for those who risk everything

  • A new prize for journalists and whistleblowers will be named after Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in a car bomb attack last year, after exposing corruption in Malta

In an ideal world where press freedom is guaranteed and access to information is a basic human right, there would be no need to get protection for whistleblowers or journalists.

After all, to inform is not a crime.

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One would presume that the European Union with all its advanced democracies and legislations would be a leading example in the world in ensuring these fundamental rights.

But a quick scan of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) websites and you quickly realise that violence and injustice against whistleblowers and journalists are on the rise everywhere - not only in authoritarian states, but right on our doorstep in the heart of Europe.

It is a subject that many of us care deeply about - the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data breach being a recent example of how whistleblowers can change our lives.

But whether it's in a small town in Slovakia; in TV newsrooms in Warsaw and Budapest; a courthouse in Luxembourg; a police cell in Greece; or a targeted assassination in the tranquil Maltese countryside - attacks on journalists and whistleblowers are happening everywhere.

It was the brutal killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta last October, which reignited our focus on the dangers faced by whistleblowers and journalists.

A key figure in the 'Panama Papers' and 'Paradise Papers' leaks, Caruana Galizia's courage and relentless drive in exposing corruption in Malta and elsewhere are the key inspirations behind GUE/NGL's inaugural award for Journalists, Whistleblowers and Defenders of the Right to Information.

We have dedicated it to her because the right to information and human rights go hand in hand. We hope this award adds pressure to the campaign for whistleblowers and journalists to be given the rightful protection they deserve.

Were it not for Caruana Galizia and others' pursuit of the truth, EU citizens would never have known about what some politicians, parts of the elites, banks, Google, Amazon, Nike, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica et al have been up to.

Moreover, were it not for these revelations, we would never have known about the double-standards and hypocrisy in having a different set of rules for the wealthy, and another for our austerity-weary, long-suffering citizens.

EU inaction

So what does the EU do for these whistleblowers and journalists? Barely anything.

Just think of the LuxLeaks whistleblowers Antoine Deltour, Raphael Halet and Edouard Perrin: feted by the world for exposing the outrageous tax arrangements for multinationals based in Luxembourg, the three were hounded by judges who stopped at nothing to silence and bankrupt them at every turn, depriving them of their freedom and stripping them of their basic human rights.

This injustice rankles to this day and is a stain on state of Luxembourg and the EU.

However, similar witch-hunts continue and in other forms.

A recent attempt by Austria's far-right Freedom Party to pressure public broadcaster ORF to fire its foreign correspondents for their 'biased coverage' of the Hungarian elections is a prime example of journalists facing daily intimidation in a mature democracy.

Thankfully, ORF didn't cower to such threats and supported its journalists all the way.

But how could such intimidation be allowed in the first place? If that is happening at the heart of the EU, can you imagine the dangers and threats faced by whistleblowers and journalists working in Turkey, China, Iran, Egypt, Russia, and Mexico - even the United States?

The European Commission dithered and delayed before public pressure forced them to present new EU-wide measures that offer more protection to whistleblowers and journalists.

Yes, this represents a small victory for all who defend the right to press freedom and the access to information, but it is scant consolation for the families of Caruana Galizia and the murdered Slovak journalist, Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova.

The interconnectivity of our world and the transnational nature of our economic and financial, and partly political, systems mean that legislation to protect whistleblowers and journalists on a national level are no longer sufficient.

Although only four journalists have been killed in the EU in the last 10 years - two have occurred in the past year alone.

We therefore hope that the inaugural GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers and Defenders of the Right to Information will serve as a wake-up call that EU-wide whistleblower protection legislation must be all encompassing, no loopholes.

The women and men on an often lonely but tireless crusade to expose the wrongdoings and criminal activities that the elites and multinationals do not want us to know about must be respected for their work and dedication.

It is important not just for what we gain in terms of public information, but also for our collective integrity and sense of right and wrong.

Gabi Zimmer MEP is a German politician from The Left party, and group chair of the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament

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