Lawsuits. La Voce delle Voci risks closing down following sentencing
A compensation of 69 thousand euros was ordered by the Court of Sulmona, along with the freezing of the bank accounts of monthly paper. The directors said: “An undermining of the freedom of the press”
“This issue of the journal may be the last, and may be so as has never before, because of an absurd civil judgment by the Court of Sulmona, which was marred by serious procedural irregularities. We risk closing”, Ms Rita Pennarola, co-director of La Voce delle Voci, told Ossigeno.
THE PAPER – The monthly magazine based in Naples, directed by her and by Mr Andrea Cinquegrani, both professional journalists, was started in 2007 from the ashes of the periodical La Voce della Campania, turned into a national circulation level newspaper. From the previous editorial experience it inherited a strong vocation to investigative journalism, often anticipating with articles documented cases, which later gained the headlines.
Among the most well-known investigations of recent years there are, just to name a few, those that relate to the intertwining between men of the institutions and the Freemasons, the first revelations on the Milanese case and the Tremonti Boys, the events that affected the so-called Land of Fires, as well as the case involving the Minister of Agriculture Ms De Girolamo, which is in the limelight these days, and that the newspaper already anticipated with articles published in 2010. A thirty-year history that is now in danger of closing down due to a civil judgment.
THE JUDGEMENT – In March 2013, with a ruling in the first degree, the civil court of Sulmona has sentenced the Naples newspaper, managed by the cooperative of journalists Comunica, to compensate with €69’000 (but including interests and legal costs, the expense for the newspaper rises to €95’000) the current provincial coordinator of L’Aquila of the Italy of Values Party (IDV) Ms Annita Zinni, for having, in an article dating back to October 2008, given “moral suffering and damage”, as can be read in a passage from the judgment, “ resulting from the fact of being an offended person.”
Ms Zinni, who felt she was defamed by the newspaper, had filed a writ of summons to the court of Sulmona in April 2010, a year and a half after the release of the article. The Court held to condemn the newspaper for libel, having, according to the judges, stricken a “moral damage” and “serious injury of an inviolable right constitutionally guaranteed by the Constitution”, referring to the social and political sphere of the plaintiff.
As is explained in the judgment, Ms Zinni “had a temporary impairment of her quality of life”. Furthermore, as the text continues, it says “all the witnesses have stated how, following the psychological upheaval due to the publication of the article, and until 2010, she had to retire from the political and public scene”.
The newspaper disputes this point: “Ms.Zinni, in fact, became the coordinator of the IDV in July 2010. Quite an unusual fact for a person described by the judgement as emotionally distraught at the time” Ms Rita Pennarola said.
The article for which the lawsuit was exercised, entitled Christian Love (Amore Cristiano), was signed with the pseudonym Giulio San Severo by the RAI journalist Mr Alberico Giostra (not identified by the Court during the proceedings) who was in those weeks finishing his book The Tribune (Il Tribuno), dedicated to the political history of Mr Antonio Di Pietro (founder and leader of the Italy of Values Party). In the article, Mr Giostra reported the news of the involvement of Ms Zinni, a retired teacher, in the graduation examinations of Mr Cristiano Di Pietro, the son of the political leader of the IDV. A news which, among others things, was being reported at the time also by other information channels.
The newspaper, in the next issue of November, then published the corrections indicating mistakes and oversights in the article. A correction that apparently was not enough to stop the prosecution of Ms Zinni.
THE FORECLOSURE – One of the first effects of the judgment, in June 2013, with an act of seizure sponsored by the attorneys to enforce Ms Zinni’s will against all the third parties (the Italian banks and the Fund for the publishing industry), the Civil Court of Rome ordered the freezing of the current accounts of the newspaper at the Banca Etica (Ethical Bank), amounting to €142’000, with an increase of 50% on the amount determined by the court of Sulmona.
As Mr Andrea Cinquegrani says “ Its just that there is not that kind of money in the bank account, so that the seizure will apply also to any future amounts that may pass through the newspaper’s accounts or mine, since I am the responsible executive. It is obvious that such a measure does not allow us to pay any valid legal defence, starting from April when there will be a new trial on the complaint of Ms Zinni in appeals, and in all the other cases in which we are involved in.”
But for the newspaper is not over yet. In the same ruling, the Court of Rome also ordered the seizure of the contributions for the publishing business assigned to the newspaper for 2012, a sum which was approximately €20’000”. As Ms Pennarola stresses, “these were resources needed to get credit and print our small newspaper, write off the debts with the banks in ten years, and operate and editorial staff.”
Against the execution of the sentencing, the newspaper has filed a request for an injunction, but was rejected last November by the Court of Appeals of L’Aquila as the courts have not found “serious and compelling reasons for granting the suspension”, nor have they found “a risk of irreparable and disproportionate harm” to the newspaper. A pronouncement that Ms Pennarola considers “very serious, because it threatens to shut us down without an appeal.”
THE PROCEEDINGS – In a journalistic investigation on the Court of Sulmona, coming out with the latest issue and at newsstands today, the newspaper also reconstructs the alleged “irregularities in the proceedings”, which according to the two directors would lead to conviction. “After having presenting a memo, we have not been able to practically defend ourselves anymore”, Ms Pennarola attacks. “A small newspaper like ours has barely enough money to pay a lawyer, let alone cope with the travel expenses of the lawyer. We had confidence in the impartiality of the judge, but we were wrong: it has proven not to be objective.”
In the investigation published by La Voce, reconstructs the working relationship between the judge, Mr Massimo Marasca, and one of the witnesses called by the lawyers of Ms Zinni, Ms Aura Scarsella, deputy public prosecutor at the court of Sulmona. “The same prosecutor Ms Aura Scarsella who was repeatedly engaged in investigations where the magistrate called to validate her claims was Mr Massimo Marasca. The very same judge who, in a civil sentencing on the 25th of March 2013, accommodates the demands of Ms Zinni and condemns La Voce to the maxi compensation for the inconvenience caused to the lady. “It’s unbelievable” writes Mr Furio Lo Forte on the monthly.
As the newspaper explains, “ there is a deadly circle of ‘favours’ and ‘acquaintances’ in which citizens stumble with particular frequency in the smaller courts such as that of Sulmona”. For this reason the magazine is preparing a complaint to the Prosecutor General of the Court of Cassation, the body tasked to examine the possible irregularities of the proceedings.
THE CONSEQUENCES – In the meantime, the backlashes on the paper have already been heavy. In December, as a result of the judgment, “we had to leave the offices in Via San Romualdo, where we lived and housed the newsroom and the storage for the mounting of our archive. Everything was tight, but there it was “, Ms Pennarola recounts. “In the process of moving, entire years of the newspaper have been lost”.
At the moment the paper is coming out in reduced foliation and had to cut resources for collaborations. Around the periodical, historical collaborators and the Order of Journalists and the FNSI of Campania have made their voices heard. But it might not be enough. “We resisted the Camorra and corrupt politicians for decades – is the bitter comment of Mr Cinquegrani – but not even the fierce clashes with De Lorenzo or Pomicino had brought us to the brink of foreclosure. The blow, especially psychologically, has been very hard: we are now no longer in the presence of a civil justice, but of an uncivilized justice that undermines the foundations of the freedom of the press.”
Members of the newsroom emphasize “the disproportion” of the damages claimed against the newspaper. “A worker from the Thyssen plant who was burned and saw the death of his comrades – Mr argues Cinquegrani – was compensated with €50’000. Once again, the Court of Milan has recently convicted of libel Mr Roberto Saviano and Mondadori, found guilty of attributing crimes tied to the Camorra in the bestseller Gomorrah, and which refer to a person deemed unrelated to the facts, have been asked to repay damages in the order of €30,000. For the record, Gomorrah has sold about 10 million copies worldwide. A small newspaper like ours is cited for €95’000 for harming a person who at the same time took the time to make a political career becoming secretary of the Eagle IDV? Its absurd!” AFI