Press freedom, democracy and organized crime in post-independence Slovakia
“An attack on one journalist is an attack on all of us.”
UNESCO report that 340 journalists were murdered worldwide between 2018 and 2022. Whether in a democratic or authoritarian state, press freedom is under attack, especially when it comes to covering government corruption and organized crime .
The murder of a journalist is a documentary directed by Matt Sarnecki that follows the events leading up to the 2018 murder of Slovak investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, and the political storm (which was more like a tsunami and a hurricane producing simultaneously) which subsequently broke out.
Right off the bat, Sarnecki took viewers on an emotional roller coaster with interviews with Kuciak and Kušnírová’s parents sharing memories of their beloved children. Kuciak’s parents in particular smiled as they spoke of their late son, appearing strong and determined for justice – even as they revealed that Kuciak and Kušnírová had planned to wed the week of their funeral.
From invasive CCTV to uncovering the corruption of top government officials, Sarnecki tells us the story of the illusion of a liberal society in Slovakia. The murder of a journalist shows how even in a supposedly democratic Central European country, the oligarchies control political parties like puppets.
Surveillance videos of Kuciak and Kušnírová disturbingly revealed how the spy recording them had captured their most mundane but vulnerable acts of domestic life, like a disturbing family video. Yet Kuciak and Kušnírová went about their daily lives fearlessly. Obviously, the ethics of including this invasion of privacy are in question. Could the film have omitted this and still illustrated the seriousness of harassment?
Kuciak was one of the journalists investigating illegal money flows from businessman Marian Kočner, suspected of ordering the murders of Kuciak and Kušnírová. His investigations revealed Kočner’s connection to government officials of the highest reputation.
Sarnecki perfectly portrayed Kočner as an obnoxious mobster through press clips of Kočner acting lewd whenever his name was mentioned.
Through scenes of protest and outrage from citizens reacting to the revelation of blatant corruption between the police, the judiciary and the presidency, Sarnecki illustrated how citizens were torn between the incompetent opposition and the corrupt former government. .
Unexpectedly, much of the film’s emotional impact came from Kuciak’s colleagues sharing how the murder investigations unleashed an avalanche of evidence exposing the political elite – which unfortunately Kuciak was not alive for. see.
The guilt and deep sadness expressed by Kuciak’s colleagues for “not doing enough to protect him” showed the precious relationships and bonds between journalists at a time when their profession is being violently suppressed.
If you are passionate about holding power accountable, you should watch this movie! The murder of a journalist embarks on a journalism journey in search of the truth, the influence of money on politicians and the messy webs of government corruption.