Czech journalist: Opened murder cases must be concluded

Czech journalist Pavla Holcová believes that journalists are most powerful when they collaborate with each other with the support of civil society.

The site of the murder in Veľká MačaThe site of the murder in Veľká Mača (Source: Sme - Jozef Jakubčo)

One month after the murder of her Slovak colleague, Ján Kuciak, and his fiancee, Czech journalist Pavla Holcová gave an interview for the Newsroom show of the public-service news TV, ČT24. It was broadcast on March 25, and she agreed to it only under the condition her face will not be seen, as she had to change her appearance due to security reasons, and remains under police protection.

“Apart from being asked to change my appearance, so that I could not be recognised at first sight, we also took other technical measures aimed at better securing my whereabouts and general safety,” Holcová described the measures..

The murder as a standard

After the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová, she mostly fears that the murdering of journalists will become “a standard”, and that society will cease to be as sensitive as it is now, or was after last year’s violent death of Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia: “Society will get numb, will stop feeling, and such a murder will not be considered shocking, especially as a journalist was murdered because of his work.”

When asked how her perception of fear has changed, Holcová answered that she had to reevaluate what is safe, and what is not.

“I stopped relying on myself being able to evaluate it well, as we within this case did not reach the phase of talking to people, which is considered the most dangerous by journalists. We did collect publicly available information, analyse it and compare it and from that, we tried to put together a kind of mosaic of what has been going on, how strong the connection between Italian mafia and the strongest Slovak party was,” she explained.

When preparing for approaching the respondents they wrote about, they planned to then increase security measures but this is not the case anymore.

The need to go on

Holcová described her feelings after the death of Ján Kuciak as “a kind of coming to terms with that situation – that I cannot change this anymore, and things must go on. It is necessary to finish what we started with Ján”.

“For me, he is still a relatively alive person, although it is not true anymore,” Holcová said, as cited by the Sme daily. “But the way we worked together, or exchanged news, the facts we found out, the enthusiasm or frustration – I suddenly have nobody to share it with. What is the hardest part for me now is that I cannot call him.”

Currently, she is a member of two teams that continue to work on cases they investigated with Ján Kuciak. One group focuses more on Slovakia while the other includes several foreign journalists investigating the cases abroad.

“The other group is by our mother organization Organized Crime and Corruption Project which views what is happening in Slovakia from the outside while considering what its context is in Europe, and the rest of the world, especially Italy,” she added.

Concluding pending cases

To keep the memory of Ján Kuciak alive, the pending case should be investigated and concluded, according to Holcová.

“In the beginning, when we started to work on this case, everyone told us there is no mafia in Slovakia or in the Czech Republic,” the Czech journalist recalls. “We were sure the case is much bigger and needs to be explored more, and the circumstances must be clarified.I think on one hand, we need to approach young journalists who may have crazy ideas at first sight much more openly and draw them more into the journalistic community. On the other hand, I think cases need to be perceived more in an international context, as organized crime does not respect borders.”

Holcová considers verbal attacks on journalists by politicians to be risky as well, both in Slovakia and Czechia. Politicians who do not speak with respect about journalists and their work subliminally announce journalists and their work are of lower value, she thinks.

“I don’t think the verbal attacks should be dealt with by journalists themselves; I rather hope there will be more and more people in civil society who stand up for journalists, show they don’t want politicians who insult reporters, and tell others that the task of a journalist is not to chase down politicians, but to give people enough information, based on which they canould decide and decide rightly.”

Journalists’s cooperation

It's splendid, according to Holcová, that after this tragedy, journalists came to understand that all cases will have a bigger impact if they collaborate on them, if they give up exclusivity and share information.

“I think it's shown how crucial it is to share the information, so that it is not the matter of a single person,” the journalist opined, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Thus, there's less of a risk that when you interview someone who may be close to organised crime, they get the feeling they can stop the story by killing you, as nobody else has the info. You will be a much smaller target if you tell them two of your colleagues also have the info, as well as your chief editor. Then they cannot do anything about that story.”

The power of the journalist community is summarised in Holcová’s words as: “you cannot kill the story, and if you remove one (journalist), five more will take his place”. This is the most important message which must be spread around the world,” she sums up. “There are few things worse than an angry team of journalists.”

The show’s host noted in the beginning that an international investigative team of journalists called All for Jan continues the work of Ján Kuciak. Originally, it had six members, but now, there are a total 35 of them, including 20 foreign ones, in a special and guarded newsroom. So far, it has published more than 30 stories.

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