The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of journalists, editors and media executives for media freedom, today welcomed the strong support expressed by Slovakia President Andrej Kiska for ensuring that the mastermind behind the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée are brought to justice.
An IPI delegation, led by Executive Board Chair Markus Spillmann, former editor-in-chief of Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, met with Kiska today in Bratislava to discuss the status of the murder investigation as well as other press freedom issues in Slovakia.
Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, were shot dead in their home on February 20. An investigative journalist with the news website Aktuality.sk, Kuciak had been reporting on high-level corruption prior to his murder. In September, Slovak police charged four people in the crime, including the hitman and a woman suspected of ordering the killing at a middle level. Authorities are still investigating the identity of the ultimate mastermind.
Spillmann emphasized that justice could not be considered done until the conviction of the mastermind. Kiska agreed, and expressed optimism that the mastermind would be found.
“They (the investigators) have a done a good job, which is a good signal for our society”, the president said. “Now we are waiting to find out who was behind the murder.”
In the meeting, IPI representatives, including IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen and IPI Head of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad, expressed concern over environmental factors affecting press freedom and journalist safety in Slovakia. For his part, Kiska underscored the dangers for journalist safety of rhetoric that top Slovak government officials had used toward journalists in the past, which has included calling them “snakes” and “anti-Slovak prostitutes”.
“We as politicians should accept that we are always under investigation by journalists”, he said. “We should be careful with the words we use when speaking about the work of journalists.”
Kiska indicated that anti-press rhetoric had improved since the political upheaval that followed Kuciak’s murder, which the included the resignation of former Prime Minister Robert Fico. Still, the president indicated that much more work was necessary to change Slovak politicians’ attitude toward journalistic scrutiny. The president also expressed concern over the concentration of media ownership in the hands of agenda-driven owners, which he said had the potential to increase journalistic self-censorship.
Spillmann said he was pleased with the frank and open discussion with the Slovak president.
“We are satisfied with the willingness of the president to bring all those behind the murder to justice”, he said. “But there is still a long way to go and it is essential to keep up public and international pressure to ensure that impunity does not take hold in Slovakia.”
The IPI Executive Board will hold its regular semi-annual meeting in at the offices of leading Slovak daily SME on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2. While in Bratislava, Board members will carry out a solidarity visit to memorial for Kuciak and Kusnírová and meet with representatives of the Slovak media community. Details of a press conference on November 2 will be communicated later this week.