After the media outlets reported on charges brought against two journalists of the Denník N daily, Monika Tódová and Konštantín Čikovský, for the 2018 report involving former journalist-turned-spy Peter Tóth, several politicians and representatives of non-governmental organisations have questioned the decision to prosecute them.
“Four years after the murder of a journalist our society gone back to the beginning,” Zuzana Petková, head of the Let’s Stop Corruption Foundation, wrote on Facebook.
The state is intimidating journalists again, she added, stressing that similar attacks created an atmosphere in the past leading to the murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.
“We mustn’t allow this to happen again,” she added.
The Reporters Without Borders international organisation called on the authorities to drop the charges against Tódová and Čikovský.
The journalists’ work has been defended by several cabinet ministers. Culture Minister Natália Milanová (OĽaNO) stressed that the state should protect journalists. Journalists should not be afraid to report on crimes happening in Slovakia, she continued in a statement, recalling that Tódová has contributed to the fight against corruption more than some state bodies.
Her party colleague, Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď, considers the charges unacceptable, pointing to the fact that while Tóth, who has obviously committed several crimes for Kočner, remains out of prison, journalists fighting corruption are facing charges, as reported by the SITA newswire.
Investments Minister Veronika Remišová (Za Ľudí) opined that the charges against journalists are part of the fight related to security forces and the prosecution service.
Justice Minister Mária Kolíková commented that the accusations against journalists raise questions, taking into consideration its content linked with Kuciak’s murder and the timing of such an accusation, about whether law-enforcement bodies understand the role of a journalist in a democratic society.
“They will have to comprehensibly answer that question,” she said, as quoted by SITA. “One of the answers is also the cancellation of such an accusation.”
An unprecedented step
Za Ľudí MP Juraj Šeliga considers the prosecution of journalists “spitting at the face of justice.” He questioned the fact that the charges were pressed three years after the report was published, and called for the protection of journalists.
“I’m afraid that such actions destroy the trust of the public in the rule of law,” he wrote on Facebook. “The prosecution of journalists for their investigative activities is an unprecedented step that has no parallel in democratic countries.”
Vladimíra Marcinková of the SaS caucus, who chairs the parliamentary European affairs committee, wrote that the information published by Tódová and Čikovský after the death of Ján Kuciak were published in the public interest. She considers it extremely important for society to know the truth and protect those presenting the truth.
Society has gone back four years
Another SaS caucus member, Ondrej Dostál, commented that several media outlets were reporting on the investigation after the murder of Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, stressing that they only fulfilled their main task: to report about matters in the public interest.
“It is outrageous when journalists are criminally prosecuted for doing their job,” he added, as quoted by SITA.
This opinion was shared by Kristián Čekovský of OĽaNO, who chairs the parliamentary culture and media committee, who stressed that the prosecution bodies should explain their steps in this affair.
Peter Pellegrini, chair of the Hlas party, said that if there is no proof of such charges, it is important to retract them. On the other hand, if there is any proof that the law was breached, we should not be discouraged by who is the journalist in question.
Third attempt of aggressive attitude against journalists
NGO Via Iuris emphasised that it is crucial for democratic society that critical journalists do not have to fear being accused when reporting on serious crimes.
Via Iuris added that the accusation of journalists could hardly be interpreted in other way than intimidation.
“We are therefore persuaded that for justice in our country, testimony about the extensive following of journalists who published this information is more important than keeping the secret identity of a witness who himself was not secret about his testimony,” the NGO claims, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
Another NGO, Transparency International Slovakia (TIS), said that accusing journalists of the alleged leaking of identity of the secret witness Peter Tóth during the investigation of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová’s murders seems to be another attempt to silence the media.
TIS said that this is the third attempt in a short amount of time that the public power and politicians has taken an “aggressive” attitude against critical press. They mentioned General Prosecutor Maroš Žilinka who barred some journalists from entering a press conference organised by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
It was followed by “Robert Fico’s conspiracy theories” from Smer about the allegedly suspicious properties of Monika Tódová and other journalists who have been critical towards him.
TIS respects that the prosecutor’s office must deal with possible law breaching and only an independent court can decide whether it happened.
“At the same time, we believe that the public’s interest in disclosing serious anti-social information should not be weakened by deliberate interference by public authorities, which may give the appearance of legal action,” they summed up.
The right to freedom of expression conflicts with the public interest in this case, said the Public Defender of Rights Mária Patakyová.
"In general, in this case, the right to freedom of expression conflicts with the public’s interest, which lies both in protecting the rights of others - specifically in protecting the personal security of a secret witness, and in preventing the leakage of confidential information," Patakyová said.
According to her, a journalist’s right to freedom of expression enjoys one of the highest guarantees of legal protection, as journalists play an invaluable role as "watchdogs of democracy" in a democratic society.