PERUGIA–From this year’s shocking murders of two European journalists to the lawsuits that independent reporters face almost daily, criminal organizations put journalists under pressure. A panel of experienced investigative journalists discussed these threats, and how to defend against them, at the International Journalism Festival on Saturday.
“I’ve always believed the only protection for journalists is journalists themselves,” said Drew Sullivan, co-founder and editor of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Program (OCCRP).“The statement that we have made is that if one falls, twenty will take her place.”
When Mr. Sullivan’s colleagues receive threats, he tells the threatener that he will blame them in the press if the journalist gets hurt. “Anybody associated with the death of a reporter is going to get a large spotlight on them for a long period of time,” Mr. Sullivan said.
OCCRP member organizations the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism and the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI) worked with Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak on his investigation of the Italian criminal organization ‘Ndrangheta before he was murdered in
February. Since his death, they have published it themselves and made it possible for local media organizations to re-publish it in local languages.
The IRPI editorial team has editors and fact-checkers study drafts of their stories very thoroughly so they can encourage mainstream media to publish it and assuage their fear of legal risk, explained Cecilia Anesi, co-founder of the Investigative Reporting Project Italy.
Even when criminal organizations don’t use violence, they can use hidden forms of intimidation against journalists. “Ndrangheta doesn’t want to have any martyrs. But when you use hidden intimidation, you place a heavy weight above head of a journalist, and not everyone wants to withstand the pressure,” said Claudio Cordova, founder and editor of the Reggio Calabria online daily Il Dispaccio. His site was the first to re-publish OCCRP’s version of Kuciak’s investigation in Italian.
The panelists also discussed the need for legal reforms in Europe to crack down on frivolous litigation and to reform the process for making free information requests. In many countries, the name and contact information of the person who requests the information is made available to the subject of the request–which can put journalists at risk.
“I don’t understand why the accounts of any person in a tax haven can be protected, but when a member of the public submits an application, the name of the person requesting the information has to be made public,” said Lorenzo Bagnoli, a freelance journalist and author.