Death of (another) journalist

The international press didn’t identify Victoria Marinova as the umpteenth victim of horrific, violent femicide in Europe. Instead, they forcefully suggested a causal link between her murder and her public role

Victoria Marinova at work
Victoria Marinova at work

There is something almost alarming about the decline of international news reporting standards these days.

At first I thought it might just be a minor perception glitch on my own part: that today’s media were not – as seems to be the case – really becoming any ‘sloppier’ or ‘less professional’ than they used to be; but that they were actually always just as sloppy and unprofessional… but it only became visible when they started reporting on local affairs that we all know a thing or two about.

So when the BBC (no less) interviewed Simon Busuttil six months after the last election, under the mistaken impression that he was ‘Opposition leader’… a post he had vacated five weeks earlier… it wasn’t necessarily a reflection of declining standards at that particular broadcasting corporation. Maybe the BBC routinely gets such details wrong, but we never noticed before because we had no idea who all those interviewees were actually supposed to be. Who knows? Maybe that interview I watched last week with an expert in North Korean political affairs, was actually with a Sushi chef or retired martial arts instructor from Japan: who, being too polite to point out the misapprehension, went along with the questions anyway. And maybe that Brexit negotiator who gave the BBC a comment last week, was in reality just a plumber called in to fix a bathroom leak… and who happened, by coincidence, to vaguely resemble Jeremy Hunt.

In any case: after watching how the BBC reports current affairs in my own country, I’m certainly not going to give much credence to any of their other running headlines in future. And it’s not just the BBC, either. Nor, it seems, is it just about Malta. This is why I’m beginning to think that it really might be a general slump in journalism standards across the board. It really is becoming impossible to believe anything you read in the international press anymore.

Take the widely-reported case this week of an investigative journalist found violently murdered in Bulgaria, for instance. Nearly all the initial reports that swam into my field of vision mentioned – either in the headline, or in the caption, or in the story, etc. – that Victoria Marinova was ‘the third investigative journalist to be murdered in the EU in the space of a year’.

Factually, this appears to be correct. Yet the nature and modality of this particular crime appears on the surface to be strikingly different from those of both Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia (the other two on that grim list). It is unpleasant to have to go into the details, but Victoria Marinova was raped, beaten and eventually strangled by what appears to have been a single assailant, at night, in a public park.

There is a limit to how many conclusions you can draw from that, naturally; but at a glance, the modality of this crime certainly seems to conform to more than just the ‘killed because of her investigative journalism’ hypothesis.

One detail that seems to have escaped most media’s attention was that “police sources who spoke to AFP said that the murder did not appear to be linked to her work.” The Bulgarian police didn’t elaborate any further, but my guess – not that I’m a criminology expert, or anything – is that they may also suspect the actions of a psychopath, or any other form of a random homicidal rapist who pounces onto unsuspecting victims in the dark. After all, investigative journalists are not the only frequent targets of violent murder. Who knows how many other women – of whatever profession – have been raped and murdered across the EU in the past years or decades, under similar (if not identical) circumstances?

Yet the international press didn’t identify Victoria Marinova as the umpteenth victim of horrific, violent femicide in Europe. Instead, they forcefully suggested a causal link between her murder and her public role: some more forcefully than others.

The European and International Federation of Journalists, for instance, responded with a telegraphic tweet: “Investigative journalist Victoria Marinova brutally murdered last night in Bulgaria. Her latest article covered state corruption. She was 30.”

As you can see, the presumed causal link has suddenly deepened. We can now not only surmise that she must have been killed on account of something she had written… but we’re also given a pretty glaring clue as to precisely what, too. First it was: ‘she was an investigative journalist, therefore she was murdered because of her investigative journalism’ – already quite an impressive leap in itself – and from there, it is but a tiny-weenie little step to reach the (otherwise gargantuan) conclusion that: ‘she was killed for uncovering state corruption; ergo, she was killed by the state’. Case closed, you can all go home now…

Of course, I am the first to concede that it is hardly a conclusion to be to sneezed at out of hand. As Her Majesty the Queen of England famously tells Bond – James Bond – in that immortal online meme: ‘Make it look like an accident, 007’. Well, why not also make it look like a random rapist nutjob? Or a Russian spy? Or a high-speed car-chase through a French tunnel? For all we know, the Bulgarian police might be excluding the ‘work connection’ precisely because they killed her themselves, or because it would lead to whoever they’re covering up for.

There is no limit to the nefarious circumstances a well-trained Secret Service can engineer to conceal a nation’s crimes, you know. And even less to what a conspiracy theorist might come up with, given just half a sentence to toy around with.

On two counts, in fact, this is the stuff that conspiracy theories – not journalism – are made of. For starters, that kind of reporting only feeds an already existing popular appetite for scandal and intrigue… among the sort of people, I might add, who would never accept any explanation for any phenomenon whatsoever, unless it involved an arcane hierarchy of power going all the way to the top of the (political, social, commercial, intergalactic, etc.) food-chain.

But much worse than that, it also pre-emptively muddies the waters of things like ‘criminal investigations’: which (unlike journalism, it seems) are, or should be, interested in establishing what the bloody heck actually happened to begin with. This creates an instant vicious circle: crimes become harder to solve, partly because public faith in investigating bodies is eroded, and partly because many people will simply never accept the result of any official investigation anyway. And precisely because crimes remain ‘unsolved’ – at least, in the popular imagination – the perception of an elaborate cover-up simply grows, and grows, and grows…

In this particular (and particularly nasty) case, we may yet get a clearer picture in spite of all the media’s efforts. At the time of writing, an arrest has just been made. It could, of course, be a smokescreen to protect the real perpetrator/s; but it may even prove to be everything the most deranged conspiracy theorist could possibly dream of: a transglobal network of Illuminati spooks, hellbent on world domination (after bumping off a few random European investigative journalists, just to make a point).

The way things are going, however, the most overwhelming possibility is that we’ll simply never know for sure. The media are certainly not helping… even if, ironically, that is precisely their job.

And I need hardly add that in this way, too, these three murders of EU investigative journalists can be compared… though I would not exactly expect an in-depth analytical feature to that effect on the BBC, or anywhere else for that matter.

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