The European Parliament awarded the EU’s top journalism prize on Thursday to reporters who revealed that spyware developed by an Israeli company had been used against dissidents, human rights activists and politicians including French President Emmanuel Macron.
The parliament awarded the inaugural prize of 20,000 euros ($23,222) to the group of 17 media organisations, led by Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, which received technical support from Amnesty International.
The ‘Pegasus Project’ investigation concluded that people across 50 countries had been targeted for potential survelliance, in what Amnesty and the media organisations said highlighted attempts to silence activists and a free press.
“An unprecedented leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers selected for surveillance by the customers of the Israeli company NSO Group shows how this technology has been systematically abused for years,” the EU parliament said in a statement.
NSO has rejected the reporting, saying in a statement in July that it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”. It has said its Pegasus software is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime.
The Pegasus Project findings prompted Israel to set up a senior inter-ministerial team to look into the allegations that the spyware had been abused on a global scale.
Amnesty called for better protection of the media.
“It is vital that EU countries address these abuses, protect journalists and rights defenders, and ensure robust and meaningful regulation over the cybersurveillance industry both at home and abroad,” said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s European institutions office.
The EU prize, known as the Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, is named after a Maltese investigative reporter who was killed by a car bomb four years ago.
The winner of the prize was chosen by an independent jury composed of representatives of the media and civil society from the EU’s 27 states and representatives of the European Associations of Journalism.