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Remarks by Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of Reporters Without Borders North America Bureau

Hello everyone, my name is Dokhi Fassihian and I’m the Executive Director of Reporters Without Borders North America bureau. I’m so grateful to be here with all of you tonight. I’d like to thank CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, for hosting this beautiful event; the Peter Mackler Awards, for their tireless dedication to honoring the work of brave, and often endangered, journalists; and Paolo Borrometi, whom we honor tonight for his extraordinary courage in journalism.

RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the state of press freedom in 180 countries and territories every year, shows an intense climate of fear, one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. In the last year, the anti-press rhetoric coming from those in positions of power translated to increasingly serious physical violence against journalists, violence that touched even journalists here in the United States. While the decline was felt globally, it was steepest in regions that have historically been considered safest for journalists, like Europe.

Europe’s decline in press freedom over the past few years has gone hand in hand with the erosion of many of the region’s institutions by increasingly authoritarian politicians. When three journalists from Malta, Slovakia and Bulgaria were killed in the span of a few months, it became clear that Europe could no longer be considered a sanctuary for journalists.

This is particularly true for journalists who report on corruption, tax evasion, or organized criminal organizations. Italy is the European country that has seen the most journalists killed in recent decades as a consequence of their investigations into the mafia. Today, about 20 Italian journalists are protected by police bodyguards, day and night, because of their reporting on these criminal networks.

One of those journalists is Paolo Borrometi, whom we are honoring here this evening. Paolo has been under police protection since 2014 when he moved from Sicily to Rome, and this protection was recently tested this past year, when the Italian police thwarted a mafia attempt on his life. When asked why they had tried to kill him, a detained mafioso responded: “One small death serves as a good lesson to all the others.”

Those who enjoy power by operating in the shadows always try to silence the reporter who brings the truth to light. But they have been unsuccessful in silencing Paolo; instead, his reporting—on the corruption in Sicily’s local government and the mafia network controlling parts of the Italian agricultural industry—has been amplified. His brave reporting is the reason why we have gathered together this evening, hundreds of miles away from where these stories originated.

I am deeply humbled to be in Paolo’s midst this evening. My colleagues at Reporters Without Borders have known Paolo for many years now, offering support and raising awareness about his case and those of his courageous colleagues. For us, it was no surprise that Paolo was selected for this award, as he perfectly represents the courage and moral strength the Peter Mackler Award honors each year. Upon receiving this honor, Paolo wrote that he would dedicate his award to Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017 as a consequence of her tireless reporting on corruption. Nearly two years later, there has been near complete impunity in her killing.

We should not have to endure another devastating loss like that of Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose work, like Paolo’s, highlight the critical, and often dangerous, watchdog role investigative journalists play in holding those in power to account. We shouldn’t endure another loss like that of Slovakian journalist, Jan Kuciak, killed in February 2018 after reporting threats against him to the police, who took no action to protect him. Paolo is fortunate to have the protection of the Italian government, the kind of support that journalists like Daphne and Jan did not enjoy. But for protection to be granted only to those who are fortunate is unacceptable. It is essential that journalists who fear for their lives receive support and protection.

When governments fail them, organizations like ours will step in to sound the alarm, provide assistance, and push for the structural changes needed to secure that support. RSF is dedicated to this work, to amplifying the stories of journalists at risk, and to advocating for their safety so they can continue the work of critical reporting. We look forward to working with Paolo to raise awareness on the dangers of investigative journalism around the world, and we are so pleased to welcome him here tonight to share his story and to remind those of us in the United States that violence against journalists is something that affects even places considered historically safe for the press.

Thank you all for your time, and on behalf of all of us at RSF, congratulations Paolo.