Ossigeno to Muižnieks: the emergence of threatened journalists
Note of Alberto Spampinato, director of Ossigeno per l’Informazione
for Mr Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights
This report has been illustrated to the Commissioner for Human Rights during the meeting in Rome last march 12, 2014.
In recent years in Italy the intolerance towards negative news and investigations published by journalists has grown alarmingly. Punitive reactions (like threats, assaults, damages, cars set on fire), retaliations (like parcel bombs, house intrusions) and intimidations by anonymous letters, blackmail, bullying and abuse of the defamation law are frequent and numerous against journalists, bloggers, photo and video reporters. This has been a hidden reality, denied until 2009, when “Ossigeno per l’Informazione” started a specific and unprecedented monitoring, and then published its first Annual Report. It revealed a trend in Italy: more than 200 intimidations happen every year. The observatory went on his work to open the eyes of the public.
As you can see on the web site notiziario.ossigeno.info, today the Ossigeno counter points out 1760 victims since 2006. In the 2012 the victims were 325, and 397 in 2013. In the fist 73 days of 2014 more than 130 journalists have already been threatened. Each of them is recorded by name. Each intimidation is classified in a database which recognizes 30 different types of intimidation. Each episode is verified with the journalistic method and published as a news by the observatory.
We underline that these impressive numbers only shows the tip of the iceberg, whose submerged part we believe is ten times larger. Such a high number of intimidations, of course, also limits significantly the information to the citizens. So, this phenomenon is really serious, despite it is still largely unknown to the public, when not denied. It doesn’t attract the necessary attention by media and politics. This condition of silence makes very difficult to be heard, when someone like us asks the authorities for the necessary remedies in the relevant fora.
Threats, intimidations, bullying, are the serious abuses which affects the journalists day by day, but they are perceived as offstage noises. Noises that only attract the attention of the related professionals, and to those who are more close to the victims, however they do not enter in the sight of the media, so remain unknown to the public, and do not reach the table of politics.
It is necessary that these noises get into the scene, because threats we are talking about are neither episodic nor isolated, and they do not just occur in those small areas where the criminal organisations are stronger. The climate of intimidation exists not only in some areas of Italy, but it is widespread throughout the country, and it does not just affect the journalists who cover about crime. It is an infection that affects the entire world of the media and that is widespread, as bad money drives out good. In the absence of countermeasures, these threats create a climate of intolerance. These threats are reducing the ability of citizens to know what is happening on the public scene. They weaken democracy, reducing the ability of citizens to consciously participate in public life. In Italy no one recalls that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, a right which, for better or for worse, influences all other rights.
Lately we are extending this monitoring to other countries, relying on a pilot project of the European Commission, just started in February, called “Safety Net for European Journalists”, that links us to NGOs of other ten countries. We also hope to join an Early Warning System for journalists and journalism in acute danger in any part of Europe, that Council of Europe is building and that will start next May, with a conference meeting in Strasbourg.