Reporters Without Borders (RSF) held a press conference today in Paris to unveil a report entitled “Journalists: the bête noire of organised crime” that shines a light on the threats and reprisals to which journalists are subjected whenever they start taking too much interest in organized crime.
The only choice for reporters who uncover facts about organized crime is often between saying nothing and risking their lives. Worldwide, more than 30 journalists have been killed by criminal organizations since the start of 2017, RSF learned in the course of several months of research for this report, in which it interviewed many targeted journalists, their colleagues and their families.
Some of those interviewed are getting round-the-clock police protection after being threatened by organized crime in connection with their reporting. Some describe how criminal groups set fire to their homes or targeted their families. Others talk about the colleagues or family members who went missing or were murdered in connection with their reporting. Organized crime hates publicity and stops at nothing to silence overly curious journalists, everyone said.
“Journalists who cover dangerous subjects such as organized crime often find themselves alone and vulnerable in the face of reprisals, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Governments must do everything possible to give them adequate support and protection and not turn a deaf ear to protection requests. And they certainly should not threaten to withdraw protection, as Italy’s interior minister recently did in a disgraceful attempt to blackmail Roberto Saviano.”
Organized crime knows no borders. At least ten journalists have been killed by organized crime this year in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, where the drug cartels hold sway. The actual figure could be much higher because criminals and politicians often ally against journalists and impunity reigns in the countries. In India, Cambodia and some African countries, criminal groups make a fortune from breaking all the environmental rules in order to plunder natural resources. Journalists who shed light on trafficking in minerals, timber and petroleum are exposed to terrible reprisals. Sandeep Sharma, an Indian journalist who investigated a local “sand mafia” was deliberately run down and killed by a dumper truck in March.
Europe has not been spared. At least two of its investigative reporters have been murdered in connection with their work in the past two years: Daphne Caruana Galizia, blown up a bomb under her car in Malta in October 2017, and Ján Kuciak, shot dead at his home in Slovakia, together with his fiancée, in February 2018. Both of these journalists had taken an interest in the Italian mafia’s activities in their own countries, in particular, shady financial dealings allegedly involving local businessmen and politicians. In Italy, Roberto Saviano is one of a total ten journalists who are protected day and night by police bodyguards. Paolo Borrometti, the target of a mafia murder plot in Sicily this year, is another. In all, more than 200 Italian journalists received some kind of police protection last year.
What can journalists do in the face of organized crime’s far-reaching influence, in which officials often collude, at least passively? How can they continue to work when they know that organized crime stops at nothing, when they know they are putting themselves and their families at risk? In Japan, the yakuza had no qualms about murdering the well-known journalist Mizoguchi Atsushi’s son in retaliation for his reporting in 2006. Self-censorship has been the rule ever since.
In the face of such violence, some journalists have given up. This was the painful decision that the owner of the Mexican newspaper Norte de Ciudad Juárez took after one of his top reporters, Miroslava Breach, was murdered last year. Others, such as Pavla Holcová, a Czech journalist who collaborated with Kuciak, wield their pens as defensive weapons, regarding their coverage of this or that criminal group’s illegal activities as the best way of protecting themselves. But this means teaming up with other reporters in order to reduce the risks. It’s what more and more journalists are doing – pooling their efforts and working on joint investigations within major international consortiums. A collective response to the Mob.