RICKTER SCALE: The price paid for a free press

RICKTER SCALE: The price paid for a free press

Rick Stiebel | Columnist

The cost of uncovering the truth is steep, especially in countries where criticism of the ruling party is neither welcomed nor recommended.

On Feb. 25, journalist Jan Kuciak paid the ultimate price for freedom of the press when he and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were shot to death in their home in Velka Maca, about 65 kilometres east of the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.

Kuciak had been reporting on financial improprieties and tax fraud allegedly involving high-ranking government officials and business leaders in Slovakia.

The ensuing uproar that included a week of protests resulted in the resignation of Robert Fico, who was elected as prime minister in 2012, and his entire cabinet.

Fuelling the controversy further are reports which I’ll classify as unsubstantiated at this point for reasons of personal security, that members of the Italian mafia with links to Slovakian business magnates may have been involved in the killings.

According to statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists, 46 members of the ink-stained rank and file who filed stories that stepped on the wrong set of toes in an effort to keep the unwashed masses informed were permanently edited out of the picture under mysterious circumstances in 2017.

While one of my instructors in journalism school used to frequently point out that a good reporter needs to look under every rock to see what’s hidden, I don’t recall him ever mentioning that some boulders may be booby trapped. While we did spend some time reflecting on the perils of the trade we were about to embark upon, fear was not a factor for those of us about to pursue careers in Canada.

Zahra Ksazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was brutally murdered in Iran in 2003, was keenly aware of the dangers her work entailed, however. That didn’t deter her efforts to risk it all by shining the light of her lens on atrocities in her native land.

Brave journalists before her have put it all on the line, and more in the future will endeavour to do the same.

The world is a better place because of people like Kuciak and Kazemi. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be fully reimbursed, especially considering the price they paid.

That’s why I get twisted up in knots every time Donald Trump launches another attack on the media, every time he spews FAKE NEWS in one of his tweets or refers to the press as the “enemy of the people.”

I do find comfort, however, in the belief that some young intern or reporter just starting out in say, Somewhere, Wisconsin or Nearby, Nebraska finds his slurs equally offensive.

Maybe that will spark a fire in their belly that burns bright enough to keep digging deeper until one of them uncovers the terrible truth that is Trump.

It’s well hidden and buried deep, but it’s there somewhere. It’s the reason Trump despises so insidiously those who fearlessly unearth the facts that will inevitably air during tomorrow or some day soon’s news at nine.


Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.