The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom wholly condemns the killing of the Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and of his partner Marina Kušnírova not only as horrible crimes against two defenceless persons, but also as an unacceptable threat to media freedom in Slovakia and in the European Union.
Occurring at their home in Velca Maca, just a few months after the murder of another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, the 27-year-old journalist, had been working for news outlet “Aktuality.sk” to uncover tax fraud and evasion among elites in Slovakia.
Since learning of the killing, Slovak newspapers have rushed to print the young journalist’s unfinished last article exposing supposed links between the Italian Mafia and high-level government officials. You can read an English version of Kuciak’s last article here at the Slovak Spectator. Slovak Police have stated that the murders are likely associated with the investigative journalism work being done by Kuciak.
Furthermore, in the last year Kuciak was also subject to threats from a Slovak businessman after Kuciak reporting on tax evasion among elites in the country, which, according to information in the press, went uninvestigated and unpunished.
The killing of journalists and impunity are a direct threat to media freedom and freedom of speech in the EU and worldwide. The work of journalists is essential to the functioning of democracy through holding the powerful to account, informing the public on matters of concern and contributing to public debate. A total of 18 journalists were murdered in 2017 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In reference to the Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors; “the authorities should pay attention to the vulnerable position in which journalists who cover politically sensitive topics place themselves vis-à-vis those in power”. Furthermore, as concerns the earlier threats made to Kuciak; Member States should encourage the establishment of mechanisms “to ensure that journalists and other media actors have immediate access to protective measures when they are threatened.” Without such provisions we also risk discouraging journalists from doing such crucial work in the long-term.
Slovakian media expert Martyn B. Z. Sampor (Pan-European University) and CMPF Media Pluralism Monitor project associate commented:
“The murder of an investigative journalist should be taken just as seriously as a murder of a judge or member of Parliament; regardless of the motive. In a time when access to amateur generated “news” is easy, fake news, online hate speech and propaganda are widespread, professional journalism faces more and more challenges for its survival. These challenges are juxtaposed with the continuous crucial role free media play as safeguards of democracy. Any attack on a professional journalist is symptomatic of a failure of the state to safeguard democracy and not just because of the inability to protect the person(s) in question, but primarily because of fostering an environment where someone would consider the murder of a journalist as a viable option in order to silence him and send a message. Attack on freedom of press is an attack on foundations of democracy and loss of an active professional journalist is a loss for democracy.”
It is imperative that authorities and states act to protect vulnerable journalists and implement the Council of Europe’s recommendations. Thus, the CMPF calls for an exhaustive and impartial investigation into the killing of Jan Kuciak and Marina Kusnirova and an end to impunity.