The conference “Freedom of the Media” took place on February 22nd at the Pistori Palace in Bratislava on the occasion of “Jan and Martina Week”, which commemorated the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in 2018. Organized by the online news website Aktuality.sk, the conference reflected on the anniversary and intended to represent an opportunity to evaluate the status of media and journalists in Europe today. Panelists Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of daily “SME”, Flutura Kusari, from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and Matthew Caruana Galizia, of Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation director’s, discussed safety issues and threats to journalists. But also media’s financial difficulties and the attacks by politicians. True, the Kuciak case shed some light on a new approach to journalists’ safety. But journalists are free and safe, only if media freedom is on the governments’ priority list, the panelists agreed.
There has been a concerning increase in threats to journalists in the last few years. Journalists are increasingly facing legal lawsuits, even verbal and physical attacks. Attacking journalists, encouraging oligarchs to buy and silence the media, as well as fake news spreading, represent the most concerning political threats to journalists, as they compromise the freedom of the press. Corruption appears to fuel the public’s hostility to many media and journalists in Europe today. And for their part, media and journalists are increasingly financially ill-equipped to support the costs of ad hoc lawsuits against them. The panelists also discussed on how Slovakia’s media landscape changed in the aftermath of the death of Ján Kuciak. Targeted attacks and even insults by politicians still do represent a concrete threat to journalists in the country and gravely erode the public’s trust in the media.
In Slovakia, as elsewhere in Europe, some oligarchs purchase media groups to use them for their business purposes. Today, public interest in journalists’ jobs or safety conditions appears to be fading away. For instance, if years ago many young people wanted to become journalists, this profession has become gradually less appealing. What to do to protect journalists, then? 1) Judges should be able to dismiss legal cases which have been purposefully set up to damage journalists and have them lose time and money. 2) Rising awareness of the civil society on the importance of journalists’ jobs and inciting the active defense of democratic institutions vis-à-vis political propaganda and disinformation. 3) While also exposing lying politicians who sue and defame journalists, clearly tackle fake news with accuracy and high-quality content. Still, free media and independent journalists’ work are in the interests of the open society.
(Published on amedeogasparini.com)