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Ossigeno: threats to journalists +50%, government must intervene

151 cases in three months. What is politics doing? The law on defamation. Testimonies of Andrea Cinquegrani, Claudio Pappaianni, and Carlo Ceraso

Since January 1st, the number of episodes of intimidation against journalists in the country has increased by 50%: in the first one hundred days Ossigeno has reported 151 cases. These are the alarming data the Centre on threatened journalists and obscured information in Italy presented at a press conference on April 14th in Rome, at the headquarters of the National Federation of Press (FNSI).

Furthermore, during the meeting, Don Luigi Ciotti, founder of Libera, announced his adhesion to the voluntary non-profit association of Ossigeno per l’Informazione, which also manages the observatory. And also the European project “Safety Net for European Journalists. A Transnational Support Network for Media Freedom in Italy and South-east Europe” was presented. The project is supported by the European Commission, and is coordinated by the Centre for the Balkans and the Caucasus, which is partnered to Ossigeno and the observatory SEEMO – IPI of Vienna.

INCREASING THREATS – As the director of the Observatory, Alberto Spampinato, in anticipating the data in the annual report to be published in the coming months said: although in Italy threats and intimidations of journalists are very numerous and ever more frequent, rarely they attract the attention of the media and of government authorities. Mr Spampinato invited the President of the Council, Mr Matteo Renzi, to fill the gap by inserting the issue of press freedom in the government agenda and making it one of the priority issues during the upcoming Italian Presidency of the EU.

The Secretary of Ossigeno, Mr Giuseppe F. Mennella, said that the proposed libel law, currently before the Senate “proposes to amend certain rules in a positive way, for example by abolishing the penalty of imprisonment. But it would be an exaggeration to call it a real reform because it still will leave the journalists inside the present cage that limits their activities.”

As Mr Mennella explained further: “we’re not facing the radical change that would be necessary, for example with the decriminalization. The amendments proposing the decriminalization, and other important measures, were given a negative opinion by the rapporteur: an opinion ratified by a government representative but without giving any reasons. This is incomprehensible. The government must give reasons for its decisions. To write a good law it is necessary to meet the international standards, accepting the recalls of European and international bodies, such as the OECD, the Council of Europe and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which, among other things, has recommended to hand out adequate monetary penalties that need to be correlated to the economic possibilities of the journalist or editor, so as to avoid a conviction caused by an error leading to the cessation of the publication of a newspaper.”

The FNSI President, Mr Giovanni Rossi, said that the data presented by Ossigeno describe a situation in Italy that is of “ever more worrying”, characterized by a generalized “collapse of democracy”, show a country permeated by “a culture that does not tolerate the control function of journalism, in which the activity of the free press is considered an attack to be reacted to with intimidations or spurious lawsuits: a frequent phenomenon.”

TESTIMONIES – The journalists Andrea Cinquegrani, Claudio Pappaianni and Claudio Ceraso have recounted the incidents of intimidation in which they were the victims. Mr Cinquegrani spoke of the long series of vexations which La Voce delle Voci, the monthly of which he is editor, has had to suffer until the seizure, a few days ago, by way of damages as a result of a conviction for defamation in the first degree. These foreclosures are likely to result in the cessation of publications after more than 40 years of history. “What the Camorra has failed to do against us, is being done by a civil court”, he said bitterly.

Claudio Pappaianni, collaborator of L’Espresso, and recently threatened with a lawsuit by a well-known hotelier of the Campania region, described the dangers local and precarious journalists face when working in the local context: “they risk a lot, because there are no guarantees. Their work exposes them to very large risks, and they are intimidated by powers that do not tolerate criticism, and which metes threats even through press releases. For this we need to create a system, get together, demonstrate solidarity to our colleagues: this does not happen often, and it is a serious problem” he said.

Carlo Ceraso, a journalist from Spoleto, and editor of the news website Tuttoggi.info suffered threats and the darkening, issued by a judge, of three articles on the inquiry into the collapse of the Banca Popolare di Spoleto. Mr Ceraso spoke of the difficulties of local reporting. As he said, “in our case, there has been little attention by other colleagues in our area. The attention came from farther away. Thirty senators have submitted a parliamentary inquiry to shed light on the seizure of some of our articles by the judiciary. And none of them was from Umbria (the region of Spoleto).”

IN EUROPE – Finally, the meeting was closed by the deputy secretary of the FNSI, Ms Daniela Stigliano, who is also a member of the Governing Council of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), and who spoke of the commitment of the organization at the international level: “we are observing across the continent at the phenomenon of threats to press freedom, even though we are not able to monitor other countries, as Ossigeno has been doing, commendably, in Italy. In many countries violations are motivated with anti-terrorism laws, there is no protection of fiduciary sources, nor any right of access to public documents.”

MF

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