Press freedom threatened in Europe
When it comes to press freedom, Europe is often hailed as a model of freedom. But some experts are sounding the alarm bells on an increasingly hostile environment for journalists.
Corinne Vella was not expecting a great crowd at her sister’s wake. After all, it had been four years since the assassination and, she said, “people are tired of fighting for justice. You would expect people to get caught up in the initial trauma and then go on to live their own lives. “
But one evening on October 16, around 1,000 people gathered in Valletta, the capital of Malta, to honor Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist known for her work exposing political corruption. She was killed by a car bomb in 2017.
“It was overwhelming to see so many people still dedicate themselves to the cause,” says Vella, who advocates for justice for her sister. Several people were charged with the murder, including an energy mogul with close ties to the government of the day. The investigation reached the highest levels of power in Malta and led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. But only one person has been convicted so far, and the full truth about the murder has yet to be revealed.
Vella is Caruana Galizia’s younger sister. She wants to see not only the perpetrators but also the people behind the murder brought to justice: “We know for sure that Daphne’s murder was related to her work and much of her job is to uncover political corruption. There is no prosecution for political corruption so far. We want that to happen.
Journalist fears for his safety and moves out
Despite the indictments and the change of power in Malta, journalists are still subject to intimidation. Manuel Delia has respected Caruana Galizia’s work and continues to investigate political corruption, but he was harassed so much that he ended up fleeing to Germany. Even in his new home, he says he’s getting calls from someone who has cloned Caruana Galizia’s phone number and other numbers as well, asking him to stop writing.
Delia enlisted the help of the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). The non-profit organization, founded in Leipzig, Germany, offers residences and bases for at-risk journalists from across Europe. The organization also trains journalists in the use of encrypted communication to safely continue investigative reporting.
Delia lives in one of the ECPMF residences, which offers her “the advantage of distance and security”, according to him. He also receives training in therapy and group safety.
Lutz Kinkel, CEO of ECPMF, says the situation is getting worse for journalists in Europe. He accuses authoritarian leaders as well as the rise of disinformation on social networks. He says his organization, founded in 2015, is getting bigger and bigger every year. “Our support enables and empowers journalists to continue their work,” he said. “It’s important because journalistic work is important for a functioning democracy.”
In the midst of danger, a little hope
The dangers are not limited to Malta or the authoritarian states. In the Netherlands, a prominent journalist investigating organized crime was shot dead in July. In Slovakia, investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were shot dead in their home in 2018.
Reporters Without Borders, based in France, has been campaigning for a free press since 1985. Current Secretary General Christophe Deloire says the situation in Europe is deteriorating.
Deloire said the Caruana Galizia assassination was “a moment of awareness” across the European Union that investigative journalists could be targeted on European soil. He says what his death appears to have in common with subsequent assassinations of journalists is that it followed a weakening of the media by those in power.
“First there is a weakening of the media and then the attackers take advantage of it,” he said.
Deloire says the future of journalism is uncertain, but there is reason to be optimistic. He said this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their work in empowering authoritarian rulers, “comes at a crucial time.”
Vella agrees. “With this award, I have the feeling that it sends such a strong signal that it builds the confidence of the people who work in the field,” she says. “He put a light where he should go. Journalism lights up the darkness.