News Media’s Joint Investigation Succeeds, Mostly As Self-Defense
Dreadful events, sadly becoming more common, can have a lasting effect on public opinion. Even as tough as they are believed to be, reporters and editors are not immune. The 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo Paris office scarred French journalism. There have been others. There is no fortress.
Slovak investigators looking into the February murders of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiance Martina Kusnirova have released details sufficient to raise a few questions. The couple were murdered a day earlier than previously believed (February 21), said the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Nothing was stolen from their home indicating, said investigators, a “contract killing” and 9mm shell casings were found at the scene. Officially, a specific motive has not been discussed.
In the murders’ aftermath street demonstrations, 50,000 people in the capital Bratislava, and a torrent of published outcry led to a new government. The protests were the largest in Slovakia since 1989. Prime Minister Robert Fico stepped down (March 16) and the three-party political coalition named Peter Pellegrini as replacement (March 22). Interior Minister Robert Kalinak resigned March 12th. He was a founder of the Smer political party and in charge of the national police, which has also gone through a leadership scrubbing. Culture Minister Marek Madaric resigned two days after the murder scene was discovered. “I cannot as culture minister put up with a journalist being murdered during my tenure,” he said, quoted by Reuters (February 28). Mr. Fico remains Smer leader, suggesting to some, he will cling to political power.
Mr. Fico has not endeared himself to the journalistic orbit. In 2016 he referred to reporters looking into financial improprieties as “dirty anti-Slovak whores,” reported Reuters (November 23, 2016). He’d also referred to journalists as “slimy snakes” and “dirt,” reported the BBC (March 2).
Mr. Kuciak’s unfinished report on links between Italian organized crime groups and corrupt Slovak politicians was updated and published by several cooperating news outlets. In addition to online news portal Aktuality.sk, which employed Mr. Kuciak, Slovak dailies Sme, Dennik N, Hospodarske Noviny and Novy Cas, news portal Postoj.sk, weekly Trend, public broadcaster RTVS and private TV channels Markiza and TV Joj participated. They were joined by reporters and investigators with Czech public radio, Swiss daily Blick, Polish news portal Onet and German news magazine Die Welt. The team has continued to publish extensive new material.
A level of journalistic activism popped up after the murders, unseen in Slovakia for decades. There’s the website – allforjan.com – the social media hashtag - #allforjan – and the requisite Facebook page created by Aktuality.sk as well as shirts and buttons. Public broadcaster RTVS reporters and news readers changed personal social media pages to include photos with the #allforjan buttons and began wearing the buttons on screen.
At first, RTVS news director Vahram Chuguryan indicated the display on clothing of “any obvious symbol” violates company rules, reported Trend (March 28). That was walked-back, slightly, to “colleagues are advised” not to wear the buttons “in the interest of neutrality.” Several RTVS Council members complained about the message, suggesting an association with the anti-corruption campaign Za slusné Slovensko (For a decent Slovakia). “If some want to do politics, let them go,” said one. “They can set up political parties or join the parties and show their opinions there.”
Others in Slovak news media are feeling impatient. Well-known TV Joj editor and crime reporter Richard Boljesik announced his resignation last week. “It is my personal decision,” he said, quoted by media portal omediach.com (March 30). “Significantly it accelerated after the murder of Jan Kuciak as well as related events. I want to be more devoted to investigations, to try to work in different, perhaps other platforms.”
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