Written by Dimitris Bounias, Project Manager iMEdD Ideas Zone, incubator, Journalist
On the header of the Reporters Without Borders website, sit emphatically and monotonously some key numbers of the “Barometer” regarding violence and censorship against journalists worldwide: 38 professional journalists have been murdered since January 2021 and 357 are in prison. 4 citizen journalists and 4 media assistants were also killed, while 101 and 22 respectively are currently imprisoned.
A few days ago, I was talking with one of the most prominent investigative reporters in Russia, Roman Anin, during a series of sessions with journalists awarded the European Press Prize (of which iMEdD recently became a funding member). Roman paid for his reports on corruption cases that reached all the way to the Kremlin, with having his home raided, with being arrested, held against his will and interrogated, in spring of this year. He has officially been characterized a “foreign agent” by the state, along with dozens of his colleagues. Every move of his, every tweet he makes, is monitored. I asked him, somewhat naively, how come he’s not afraid and pushes on. He told me that, of course, he is afraid.
“…paid for his reports on corruption cases that reached all the way to the Kremlin, with having his home raided, with being arrested, held against his will and interrogated.”
Earlier in Autumn, at an event of the same institution, the European Press Prize , I was listening to the former editor-in-chief of turkish daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar, describing how he lives and keeps on fighting the good fight, in exile in Germany since 2016. He was recently sentenced in absentia to 27 years in prison in his country. It all started in 2015 when he revealed that war material was secretly supplied to islamists in Syria. Dündar, who already has an assassination attempt against him in front of the courthouse in 2016, is still under threat for his life, even in exile.
As journalists and as readers, we can consider ourselves lucky to live in a democracy in the bosom of the European Union and to observe that the vast majority of such cases happen in countries far removed from the western mindset, with authoritarian regimes and a tradition of censorship. But it is more complicated.
“…has an assassination attempt against him in front of the courthouse in 2016, is still under threat for his life, even in exile.”
Two out of the thirty-eight assassinations of journalists in 2021, happened in EU countries: the Netherlands and Greece. In a few days from the moment of writing these lines, it will have been eight months since the murder of journalist George Karaivaz, with the case remaining unresolved.
A few days ago, a report about alleged surveillance of citizens by the greek National Information Service, including the journalist of the French Agency, Stavros Malichudis, came to light. Last month, the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers called for the withdrawal of an amendment providing for the ability to bring criminal charges for spreading false news, which was incorporated into the Penal Code, due to “posing a danger against freedom of expression”. Meanwhile, the country has until mid-December of this year to include the European Directive 1937/2019 “on the protection of persons reporting violations of Union law”, also known as public interest witnesses or whistleblowers. No news on this front, despite the pestering of several journalistic and civil rights organisations, including Transparency International.
“Two out of the thirty-eight assassinations of journalists in 2021, happened in EU countries.”
2021 happens also to be the year of the largest leak and investigation in the history of journalism, the Pandora Papers. Like previous leaks (ie. Panama Papers, FinCEN Files, Paradise Papers, LuxLeaks), it sent ripples across the globe with its findings on money havens. It is an immense example of what journalism can do – for example, revelations of the investigation seem to have cost the re-election of the former prime minister of the Czech Republic.
In an interview with iMEdD, ICIJ head Gerald Ryle stresses the need for collaboration and cross-border journalism – and, thankfully, such practices are nowadays more and more widespread. The trend seems to be similar, mutatis mutandis, in Greece. Next to outstanding colleagues in traditional media, journalists in independent, innovative, extroverted ventures are now being added to the ranks.
“Next to outstanding colleagues in traditional media, journalists in independent, innovative, extroverted ventures are now being added to the ranks.”
And the creation of dozens of collaborative schemes, networks of journalists around the globe, operating from hyper-local to international level, attracting different specialties in an increasingly complex world, drawing resources from non-traditional sources, is comforting. Perhaps it is even a one-way route for survival, the improvement of working conditions, the service to society and to democracy that journalism stands for, to continue being the watchdog, checking the integrity of those in power.