A system that monitors threats and violations of freedom of expression could prevent such serious crimes, as it already does in Italy
First in Malta, then in Slovakia. After Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in November 2017, on 22 February another journalist, Jan Kuciak, was killed. In Europe, it is a long time since a threat that ended up with the physical elimination of the journalist. In all European countries, many journalists, whose reporting activities bother businesses, interrupt carriers and contradict powerful people, are not discouraged by pressures and do not practise self-censorship. Not always and not all journalists are tolerated when doing such activities. Those who have power and are in leading positions, often react but it had rarely happened that they would have reacted by killing the journalist.
We believed that nowadays other methods are used, less cruel but still effective. These two heinous killings committed within 4 months in two different EU member states contradict this. And they lead to the following questions: why was the death necessary to silence a journalist? what dynamics are put in place in such countries that led these crimes to be committed? What can we do to prevent this from happening in the future?
Every European citizen should ask these questions. Indeed, whenever a journalist is killed in Slovakia or in Malta, it is as if they were killed in our own country. Despite all language and cultural differences, Europe is our country. When Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed, we said: it does not make any difference to us if she had been killed in Palermo, Naples or Rome. It is the same today is for Kan Kuciak and his girlfriend.
We are told that Jan Kuciak was a well-known investigative journalist who had been reporting about Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Ministers’ alleged dirty business with some entrepreneurs for years, one of whom one had threatened him last year. We would have been interested in knowing this earlier and not only when he was found shot dead alongside his partner, Martina Kusnirova, at their home on 25 February. If we had known in time, we could have helped and protected him. If we had reported about his receiving threats, Jan Kuciak would have not had to fight alone and more likely he would have not died. We heard all about this later. What proper safety measures could have avoided had happened again.
Until 1993, eleven journalists were killed in Italy. Ossigeno commemorates them by delivering a commemorative plaque to institutions, universities and schools that lists their names including those jorunalists who were killed abroad in the line of duty. When we deliver the plaque and we have an exchange with students, we usually explain that nobody has been killed in Italy since 1993 because many things have changed since then. A network of public protection has been built around them. Law enforcement officers have properly investigated and prevented any initiative for the killing. The police has started to establish armed escorts for those journalists more targeted, also those criticising the current government.This happened because there is a journalists’ trade union and an association of journalists as well as an observatory like Ossigeno that by monitoring attacks warn institutions about threats and push them to adopt prompt safety responses.
During a conference that Ossigeno organised in Malta in December 2017, two weeks after the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Ossigeno emphasised that in Italy Daphne would have not died. For the same reasons, also Jan Kuciak would have not died if he had lived in Italy.
Undoubtedly, Italy is far from being a safe haven where freedom of expression is always protected. But what it is true it is that we have gone far but we are still half way. Those journalists who have criticised the government and the major political parties have also received protection. Journalists organisations build up a safety cordon that makes sure nobody is left alone to defend the profession and the social role played by the press.
In order to protect journalists, rules and institutions must be put in place but prior to that, a continous monitoring mechanisms must be created in each country to identify any violation of freedom of expression and attacks against journalists and to intervene in time.
This is what Ossigeno has been doing over the last ten years. We play the same role as Cassandra in the Trojan War when we draw the attention to problems that nobody was noticing. The victims themselves still nowadays cannot report to institutions, because they are ashamed or afraid. Overcoming such feelings is still a key priority for Ossigeno.