Patrick J. O Brien

Europe is a dangerous battleground for Investigate journalists

For the past 18 years the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has been under police protection. (Image courtesy of author)
For the past 18 years the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has been under police protection. (Image courtesy of author)

“The attack on journalists must be seen as an assault on society, on the people, on everyone’s right to express themselves and to be heard” Patrick J O Brien , FLiving TV

Investigative journalists face a myriad of dangers which vary depending on the country they work in or are reporting on. Europe has witnessed brutal attacks and murders on reporters who have lifted the lid on numerous crimes deeply upsetting those in power who don’t want their secrets uncovered.  

As a young reporter in Ireland 27 years ago, I like many witnessed through our televisions screens the brutal assassination of Investigate journalist Veronica Guerin in a Dublin Street marking a turning point in Ireland’s battle against organised crime and for investigate journalist globally. Exasperated by the journalist’s interference in their dirty work, an order was given by the Irish underworld for her elimination. Her death prompted an extraordinary wave of public and global anger. Her story turned into a Hollywood film starring Cate Blanchett because in death Veronica Guerin became an icon. Her journalism and bravery were widely lauded both in Ireland and abroad. 

 In 2017, the tiny Island of Malta witnessed the brutal murder of Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on the orders of those who alleged crimes she had been investigating. Caruana Galizia had devoted her life to exposing crime and corruption, her murder was a watershed moment for the it’s people and their European neighbours. Only half a year after the attack on Caruana Galizia, the Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak suffered the same fate, he was shot dead in his home close to Trnava, Slovakia. An icon in Dutch journalism, Peter De Vries redefined crime reporting during his career. He published countless scoops on crime bosses within the Netherlands. He devoted his journalistic career to fighting injustice and specialized in miscarriages of justice. While his advocacy work also courted criticism, many knew that if De Vries shone a light on a case, there would be little chance of it being forgotten. In the evening of 6 July 2021, Peter R. de Vries was shot in the head after leaving a television studio. Their tragic murders were a cowardly effort by the rich and powerful to silence those who spoke out. 

Today many investigate journalists live under heavy police escort. As one of Italy’s best-known news anchors, Massimo Giletti knows that reporting on the Mafia and its criminal activity comes with risks. But even now he is adjusting to how coverage of organized crime has impacted his life. For the past two years, the Rome-based journalist has had round-the-clock police protection. Two officers accompany him everywhere even when out reporting. “It’s very difficult. It’s strange. Because you are not free to move, to speak with people. Always two people around you. So it’s very difficult,” Giletti told Italian news. For fourteen years, the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has faced constant threat of death for exposing the secrets of the Naples mafia in his book Gomorrah. Is the price of life under armed guard too much for a writer to pay? Today he lives in hiding with five carabinieri officers with two armored cars who are with him 24/7. He has change his residence very often.  

The number of cases of impunity for the murder of journalists in Europe is on the rise. The Council of Europe Platform for the Protection and Safety of Journalists to which the IFJ and the EFJ are regular contributors, recorded 38 cases of impunity in Europe in 2019, including 14 murders and disappearances of Serbs, Kosovars and Albanians. Now we are living through an extraordinary period in our history, one defined by dazzling political shocks and the disruptive impact of Covid 19 in every part of our lives. The public domain has changed and investigate journalists have worked hard to adjust.. Investigative journalism is an extremely important part of a democracy and is a safeguard for freedom of speech. It is an essential part of any functioning society but tackling public distain means journalists need to rethink their relationship with the public. While journalists have tended to be reluctant to advocate for themselves, many would argue that this is a moment when the media must remain politically independent but be prepared to talk about the value they provide in society, to convince the public to support good journalism when it comes under fire.

About the Author
Patrick J O Brien is an acclaimed journalist and Director of Exante who has been working in the media for almost 25 years. Patrick who hails from Ireland is based in Malta and a contributor to some of the world’s leading financial and political magazines. Recently he returned from Ukraine where he was reporting at ground level on the escalation of war and spent time documenting the work of the Red Cross and many human right organisations