The murders of the Maltese journalist Daphne Carouana Galizia and that of the Slovak Jan Kuciak, together with his fiancé Martina Kušnírová, have shed light on the dangers and risks confronted by investigative journalists. It is a fact that the links between organised crime, politicians and media oligarchs have reached unprecedented levels, especially in the past decade.
Numerous scandals related to fraud involving huge amounts of EU or national funds, as well as money laundering and widespread corruption in Europe – and among oligarchs from new member states, have been uncovered by the persistence of investigative journalists.
Pavla Holcová, founder of the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism, is one of these journalists. She has investigated cases concerning Serbian organised crime, FYROM secret service investments in Prague, money laundering and offshore companies.
Her work has not gone unnoticed. Holcová is a co-recipient of the Global Shining Light Award and European Union investigative journalism prize.
She is currently working closely with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting project on various international initiatives and investigations.
Holcová, who worked on one case with the ill-fated Kuciak, is also working to bring international attention to this murder case.
In an interview with European Interest, Holcová tells us about the on-going investigation into Kuciak’s murder case. She is also quick to stress the difficulties faced by investigative journalists.
Concerning the murders in Malta and Slovakia, Holcová does not mince her words: “The European Commission can start independent investigation, if there is enough political will”.
European Interest: You worked together with Jan Kuciak on the investigation of a corruption case in Slovakia. A few days ago, the Slovak police arrested eight suspects in connection to the murder of Kuciak and his fiancé. Are you satisfied with the police investigation so far? Do you think authorities will solve the case?
Pavla Holcová: For me, there is at least some hope. Six months of investigations are considered to be crucial for making progress, but both Slovak police and prosecutors remain silent. The progress they made can partially explain their silence. So, I am indeed cautiously optimistic.
While the international community of journalists is still pushing authorities to investigate the murders in Malta and Slovakia, we now have another brutal death of another journalist. Victoria Marinova, a Bulgarian TV reporter, was found dead. All three murders appear to be connected with corruption. Since the murders of the three journalists occurred in relatively new EU member states, do you think that these countries represent a kind of Eldorado for organised crime? What makes those societies so vulnerable to the activities of the mafias?
Yes, these countries are especially vulnerable towards organised crime. It is difficult in these countries to determine where the line has been drawn between organised crime groups and the government. Very often, they are in business together. And this makes the rule of law fragile.
Media freedom is targeted in some of EU member states. Members of the governments and other politicians attack journalists and independent media (such as cases in Slovakia, Malta, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic). We are witness to a constant and systematic attack against the freedom of expression and against the control of the governments. Do you think the current situation will lead us to authoritarian societies?
Maybe, but it is up to civil society and not journalists to defend independent media. As journalists, we probably need to better explain why society needs unbiased information and why we all need journalists. And then, we need to rely on society to stand up for us journalists, when our life and dignity are at stake.
It is widely accepted that the prestige of many so-called ‘big media’ in many countries is dropping. In its place, there is an emerging new media environment of independent journalists who try to do their work in a professional and honest way. What do you think has pushed good and experienced journalists out of mass circulation or mass audience media?
In our region, this is given by the fact that oligarchs and politicians are buying media to influence public opinion. There is a very limited number of journalists (if any) who are able to keep their freedom – to write about whatever they consider important – and work under politicians pushing their own agenda.
Panama Papers, Pilatus Bank, Danske Bank, to mention some of the scandals that have shaken the EU. Since these cases are connected politicians, media barons and businesspeople, the role of investigative journalism seems to be instrumental. What is the main difficulty and risk for journalists?
The main difficulty in general is money (and time). Investigative journalism is lengthy, expensive and risky. The average time we work on uncovering such cases is about six months. And there is cost that few media organisations would even consider spending. Also, the risks are obvious. We are making some powerful people angry to the extent that they are killing us.
The EU has condemned the murders of the three journalists. And in two cases, in Slovakia and in Malta, a special committee of the European Parliament was formed. What are the powers of the European Parliament and of the EU in general and what are its limits in relation of the above cases? Is there anything the EU can do to push authorities to solve these murder cases?
The European Parliament and the EU do not have any real leverage as regards investigating or prosecuting someone in an EU member state. On the other hand, the European Commission can start independent investigation, if there is enough political will.
But the process is very complicated. I wish there were more powers for EU and Europol not only to assist national police bodies but also to supervise the independence of the investigation.