Judith Brown
Judith Brown
Young enough not to quit and old enough to know better.

Being an investigative reporter can be deadly

Peter de Vries, famous Dutch investigative reporter was shot in the head in broad daylight in Amsterdam. Peter is a reporter known for grit in investigating organized crime.  He was also the lead reporter in the famous 2005 Natalee Holloway disappearance case in Aruba.  Like most investigative reporters across the globe, going after the truth has become hazardous to one’s health. Peter has had his share of threats made against him.  In a new global community of alleged diversity and harmonious Kumbaya, criminal organizations have also merged into one big happy family.  Linked through drugs, money laundering, human trafficking, and illegal prostitution; organized crime unabashedly goes after reporters and their families.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports 30 murdered journalists between 2018-2020.  Police protection does not help because as in the case of de Vries, he was attacked coming out of a TV studio early in the morning. Inadvertently, aggressive reporting comes face to face with bad people. Aka those who wish to remain in the shadows of “legitimate” businesses or powerful politics. Nothing is sacred to these thugs. Reporters and their families are a constant target, Their homes have been known to be fire bombed or worse.  The ultimate price for doing a good job investigating is often death.

In recent years, drug cartels in Brazil, Columbia, and Mexico killed and silenced 10 reporters that the RSF is aware of. That number is only accurate when bodies are found. Many missing reporters remain in the wind. The most nefarious attack on a reporter happened in October 2017, in Malta, a small EU island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Malta happens to be my birth country.  Investigative journalist, blogger, and political analyst Daphne Caruana Galizia (DCG) was blown up in a rental car a few meters from her front door.  Her son Matthew ran into the adjacent field after hearing the blast, only to pick up remaining pieces of what once were his mother. DCG had opted for a rental because of continual death threats against her. She was afraid that the family car would be targeted. Her sin? Exposing the gradual systematic financial corruption in the Maltese government that led directly to the Prime Minister, his wife, and members of the cabinet. She unraveled what eventually became known as the Panama Papers that exposed not only local Maltese government officials, but world leaders across the globe.

In February 2018, Jan Kuciak, a Slovakian investigative journalist, and his fiancée were gunned down while at home. Like DCG, Kuciak was investigating crime and shady financial dealings of prominent businessmen and politicians.  According to RSF, there are currently 200 Italian investigative journalists under police protection from mafia retaliation. Among them are Roberto Saviano and Paolo Borrometti. Both prominent reporters.

The criminals are bold. In 2006, organized Japanese crime syndicate Yakuza had no problem murdering investigative journalist Mizoguchi Alsushi’s son as retaliation for reporting on their criminal activities. Some journalists are now teaming up in an attempt to reduce personal risk. They figure that targeting many is far more troublesome for the bad guys than targeting one. An insidious solution to what should be a safe free press.

Russia’s government’s  tactics are equally nefarious.  It legitimizes targeting, harassing and arresting independent news media and its reporters by labeling them “foreign agents”. In June of this year, Roman Badanin, Chief Editor of Proekt, an investigative online outlet, and Maria Zholobova, one of his journalists, were detained by the police.  At the same time, Badanin’s deputy, Mikhail Rubin’s parents’ house was also raided, and his parents detained. Proekt had just announced the release of an investigation into Russia’s interior minister Vladimir Kobkotsev and his unprecedented wealth.  Roman Anin and four editors of an opposition students’ magazine were also arrested. The government cited “legal grounds”.   Alexksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy are facing 15 years in prison for alleged police extortion. They are the deputy chief editors of an independent investigative news website called Rosderzhava. They were investigating police corruption when apprehended and government lawyers threw an extortion charge at them. Allegedly, they are accused of bribing traffic cops in exchange for information.

China jailed journalist Zhang Zhan, an independent journalist, for reporting from Wuhan on the outbreak of COVID. She has been sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”; a common phrase the Chinese government uses against dissidents and human rights activists when they want them to shut up and thrown in jail.

Investigative reporters must dig methodically for evidence and proof to arrive at what could be or should be the truth. It is arduous, long, and tiring. If reporters, bloggers, and journalists, had to be asked why they go after the truth with so much passion, their reply would be unassuming and mundane.  Something wakes their intrinsic urge to either right a wrong, or to expose a wrong that hurts the innocent and vulnerable. My own writing experience is along those lines.  I blog when my sense of right and justice turns to anger and that passion urges me not  to ignore an obvious wrong but to expose it.

Those of us who remember Watergate, also remember how the story unfolded before our very eyes. Two Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were bent on finding out the truth which eventually brought down a presidency.  Initially as a “good” story, both reporters felt the need to dig deeper. They knew that a crime had been committed in the highest office.  They could and would not allow that to go unscathed.  In a 2018 interview on CNN, both journalists now in their twilight years, remained true to their investigative profession.  Methodical. Both men described their long process of getting to the truth by “knocking on doors at night” and piecing together chronological events that led to the only possible truth. They never doubted themselves or their convictions.

Peter de Vries has had a target on his back since 1993. In 1993, he investigated the kidnapping of beer mogul Freddy Heineken.  He followed leads that led to the convicted kidnapper William Holleeder serving a life sentence in a Dutch jail. In 2013, Holleeder was connected to threats against de Vries. Peter is currently involved in a case against Ridouan Taghi, accused of murder and drug trafficking. Peter is acting as adviser to the main witness in the case, a former gang member, Nabil B. In 2019, Nabil’s lawyer was assassinated in outside his Amsterdam home.  Peter decided to take the lawyer’s place and assist Nabil.

The reporter “hit list” remains long. In 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi Royal family was found murdered and mutilated in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. Anna Politkovskaya was killed while investigating Russia’s activities in Chechnya. An endless reportage of crime against journalists. Since August 2020, 370 journalists have been arrested globally. In 2020, 50 journalists have been killed worldwide. 61% of imprisoned journalists are in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Syria. It’s true that journalists choose their profession like the rest of us. But their job has become increasingly more dangerous.  We demand the truth.  Investigative journalists demand the same.  We get their stories and the truth, but often at their expense.  We hope that Peter de Vries gets to give us the truth another day.

Russia targets investigative journalists with raids – News Break

Two Russian journalists persecuted for investigating police corruption | RSF

Reporters Without Borders say at least 50 journalists killed in 2020 – CNN

Peter R de Vries: Dutch crime journalist wounded in Amsterdam shooting – BBC News

Belarus was Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists in 2020, data shows | Euronews

About the Author
Judith was born in Malta but is also a naturalized American. Former military wife (23 years), married, and currently retired from the financial world as Bank Manager. Spent the last 48 years associated or working for the US forces overseas. Judith has a blog on www.judith60dotcom Judith speaks several languages and is currently learning Hebrew.