Silence is (not) golden

Marija Pavleska

On October 8, last Monday, echoed the news about the murder of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, who was editor at the local television station TVN from Ruse. The 30-year-old Marinova investigated and reported on alleged corruption related to the European Union funds.

Marinova is the fourth journalist murdered in the European Union since 2017. In the past 18 months, Kim Wall from Denmark, Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta and Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kushnirova from Slovakia were killed.

The last edition of Marinova’s “Detector” was aired on September 30th. In it, the investigative journalist spoke with two fellow journalists, Bulgarian Dimitar Stoyanov and Romanian Attila Biro, regarding the links between politicians and businessmen with the misuse of EU funds. Stoyanov and Biro were then briefly detained by the police.

Jan Kuciak from Slovakia, just like Marinova, was investigating the misuse of EU aid.

Days before the murder of the Bulgarian journalist occurred, Slovak police said they had arrested eight suspects for the death of journalist Kuciak and his fiancée. Five of them were released a few days later. The Slovak media wrote about possible links to one of the released with the police. The other three suspects, which the public prosecutor asked to be detained, are charged with murder with intent and other crimes.

And once we thought things were moving in the fight to clarify this murder, it happened again. Viktoria Marinova was raped, beaten and strangled in Ruse, northeastern Bulgaria. Her body was found in a park near the Danube. But what was most worrying was the initial reaction of the authorities, for which the horrific murder had nothing to do with the young journalist’s research work. According to them, she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Immediately after the news of the murder of journalist Marinova was published, the European Commission called for a swift and thorough investigation, as requested in the case of the killing of Jan Kuciak. They once again stressed that there was no democracy without free media.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, in his annual address in September noted that the freedom of the media was sacred to the EU.

The International Federation of Journalists believe investigative journalism in Europe is in danger and there must be no impunity. The Federation, through the statement of IFJ Secretary-General Anthony Belanger, noted that it was time for action by the countries in relation to this serious problem.

In Macedonia, corruption is not the main topic on television. This was concluded according to the results of the project “Together in the fight against corruption” implemented by the Center for Investigative Journalism “SKUP – Macedonia”, the Institute for Human Rights and Media Center for Development of Local Television Stations.

The research, which is the monitoring of the five national television stations for their reporting on corruption, shows: “Although corruption is a topic present in the media, the articles are scarce and based on statements by political parties, and instead of continuously, cases are only monitored when they are current.” During the research period, 406 reports were analyzed in the central news of five national television stations: Telma, Alsat, MTV1, MTV2 and Sitel.

The three-month monitoring showed that the most publicly informed public services on corruption topics were the Telma and Alsat television stations. The survey has also shown the actual situation, that the media mainly deal with news related to current events. Researchers emphasize that it is important to monitor corruption continuously, so that it remains in the focus of the public.

What is worrying is the fact that over the domination of the news category, over two-thirds of all news is based on only one or two sources. What is even more alarming is the result that precisely in most of the stories that are coming from one source, the source information comes from one of the political parties.

If we go back to September in our country, we will recall all billboards, advertisements and speeches at debates and discussions where European funds were mentioned. Summarized, the whole campaign for the referendum was based precisely on the funds that Macedonia will receive as an EU member state. European values ​​were replaced by European money. This amount of money for education, this much for healthcare, that much for highway construction. From our budget there is only money for new, newer and latest elections, of course, with the same actors. This reassurance came on Sunday from the finance minister, who at a press conference said that even without a budget rebalance, there will be money for elections.
Many officials during the September campaign informed us: “At the moment, Macedonia receives 260,000 euros per day as aid from the European Union. This assistance will grow with our progress towards the European Union.” In fact, this information was mostly presented to the public by the Minister of Internal Affairs at meetings with the citizens, and this statement was shared by the media in Orizari near Veles and Buzalkovo.

The fight against organized crime is designated as the second point of the three priorities of the Ministry of the Interior from the Government’s first reform plan called 3-6-9. This item 2 is divided into three sub-items, the first being dedicated to the reforms in the fight against corruption.

So, it’s good to know how many thousands of euros come as EU aid and support, but it needs to be transparently published where and how this money is spent.

At the beginning of March this year, the first resignations took place in the composition of our Anti-Corruption Commission. We still don’t have a new Anti-Corruption Commission, but the debate over the draft law has begun in the past period.

Promising are the efforts of Justice Minister Renata Trenevska-Deskoska to establish a transparent procedure for the election of members of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) and determining criteria that will mean its separation from politics. One of the criteria for selecting a member or chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission is to be a person who has not been a political functionary in the Government, in parliament, nor has he/she been a political party’s donor in the past 10 years.

In order to increase transparency, the proposal for journalistic associations and NGOs working in the field of corruption to nominate representatives to participate in the interviewing of candidates for SCPC members has been welcomed.

This law was supposed to enter the Parliament immediately after the referendum, so that by the end of October the commission could select its members. Fighting corruption seems to be waiting for another election to take place so that the law could be adopted, and then we would get a commission in ten months which will deal with corruption.
Although the proverb “Silence is golden” is widely known in our country, in order to have a genuine democratic society it is necessary to speak, and write, out loud. Today, unfortunately, self-censorship is more and more prevalent.

In the movie “Truth” (2015), journalist Mike Smith asks journalist Dan Rather why he got into journalism. He responds briefly, saying: “Curiosity”.
Mike asks indignantly: That’s it?

“That’s everything”, says Rather.

Curiosity is a real driving force, but we will know that we are living in a truly sound democratic society when curiosity is not life-threatening, especially for investigative journalists.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik