Friday

10th Jul 2020

Opinion

Slovakia must create secure environment for journalists

  • Bratislava: The story was another indication of how journalists around the EU are helping to uncover corruption and financial crime (Photo: Unesco)

The murder of Jan Kuciak in February this year shocked Europe. He and his fiance, Martina Kusnirova, were shot dead at their home at Velka Maca, a small town in southwestern Slovakia. He was only 27 at the time.

From all accounts, the young reporter for Aktuality.sk was both modest and committed to his journalism, much of which focused on data handling. Through his work, he uncovered dirty deals, and links between organised crime and political power.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

I was in Bratislava recently as part of a delegation of partner organisations of the Council of Europe's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists.

The motive for our trip was continued international attention on the case. We wanted to show journalists that we were continuing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the struggle for justice.

At the time, Kuciak's murder led to mass street protests, born out of anger and disbelief. Fingers were pointed at the ruling Smer party and the constant reports of corruption.

It provoked the resignation of prime minister Robert Fico, and other officials.

Aktuality.sk made a unilateral decision to publish the story that Kuciak had been working on at the time of his death.

His last investigation showed how Italian mafia groups, based in eastern Slovakia, had links with the political elite and, as a result of weakened state institutions, had allegedly enabled the misappropriation of EU agricultural subsidies.

The story was another indication of how journalists around the EU are helping to uncover corruption and financial crime.

Reports of flailing professionalism, including the confiscation of a journalist's mobile phone, and poor communication dogged the first months of the police investigation.

The head of police was replaced in June, which led to improvements including reports of good cooperation with the Italian police and Europe.

Arrests of four suspects has given renewed hope that proceedings are moving in the right direction. On 6 December, Peter Bardy, the editor of Aktuality.sk told us: "I am sure that the authorities will find all those responsible."

One of those arrested claimed that businessman Marian Kocner was the person who ordered the murder. Reports also indicate he is the godfather of the daughter of one of the suspects. Kocner is currently in prison in relation to tax crimes.

Kuciak had reportedly been threatened by Kocner, but the police apparently did not act on the report at the time.

There is now potential for successful prosecutions; but we should not forget about other investigative journalists in Slovakia doing the same type of sensitive work.

Slovakia is a "cross-roads for organised crime and drug trafficking", Bardy told us.

Threats remain

For journalists working on organised crime, the threats remain. There will continue to be much to report on and journalists will need support.

Recent comments by former prime minister Fico also show a certain level of hostility towards journalists.

"Shall all you comedians be knocked out," he said when journalists spoke at rallies in November in memory of Kuciak.

This was not an isolated incident. In November 2016, he called journalists "dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes".

It is never acceptable for officials to make such comments, especially from an EU member state.

An expert group set up by the ministry of culture, which is also formed of local journalists including from Aktuality.sk, is making amendments to the existing press act in Slovakia.

It should be a significant moment to strengthen the legislative framework to protect journalists.

Reports of journalist harassment and intimidation should be investigated by the police, and training is needed.

Rights for all Slovakian journalists, including that of source confidentiality, must be guaranteed in the new text.

EU officials should track this where possible. External scrutiny can help.

Not one more journalist should ever be killed in Slovakia and the time to lay the foundation for this is now.

Tom Gibson is the lead advocate in Brussels for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based NGO

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Journalist murder shocks Slovakia

The reporter's research on alleged Italian mafia links with EU farm funds in Slovakia has been hinted at as a possible motive for his murder.

Slovakia - from black hole to neutron star

Slovakia is about to take up a one-year stint as president of the Visegrad Four, with a determination to anchor Central Europe in "Jadro Europy" - the core of Europe.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

News in Brief

  1. Irish finance minister voted in as eurogroup president
  2. Italy's League party opens office near old communist HQ
  3. 'Significant divergences' remain in Brexit talks
  4. Germany identifies 32,000 right-wing extremists
  5. WHO to hold probe of global Covid-19 response
  6. China accuses Australia of 'gross interference' on Hong Kong
  7. EU to let Croatia, Bulgaria take first step to join euro
  8. Rushdie, Fukuyama, Rowling warn against 'intolerance'

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact
  2. EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds
  3. MEPs give green light to road transport sector reform
  4. If EU wants rule of law in China, it must help 'dissident' lawyers
  5. Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'
  6. EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece
  7. Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas
  8. Merkel urges EU unity to hold off economic fallout and populism

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us