Another journalist under police protection. Why? What can be done?
She works in Rome for the daily La Repubblica. She has been under protection for over a year. But why wasn’t this known before? She is threatened because she has been an eyewitness to a bloody crime.
A year has gone by since the journalist Ms Federica Angeli, reporter for the national daily La Repubblica who covers the crime news in Rome, has been threatened with death by people connected to one of the Mafia clans that vie for racketeering and criminal contracts along the Roman coast.
She was first threatened in Ostia on May 23rd, 2013. The threat, which was recorded in a video, has been handed over to the police at the time of the complaint. After that first threat, while the investigation on the attackers continued, she suffered other intimidations and today, and for the past ten months, she has been living under police protection. She cannot take a step without being surrounded by armed men to protect her. His life has changed and it is not clear when it will return to normality.
For many years, Federica has been living in Ostia with her family and children. She continued to live in Ostia. She carried an inquiry on the clans of Ostia and after the threats of May 23rd, 2013 she gathered yet more information, so as to be able to write the in-depth report of this investigative journalism case relative to the racket of the baths along the Roman coast, which was then published on La Repubblica on June 28th. By carrying on such an investigation on the field, Federica found on the outskirts of Rome the same problems that burden local reporters and chroniclers from smaller centres. And Ostia, which embraces 85 thousand inhabitants who live nearby the capital city, is indeed a small town. And a journalist, who lives there, finds herself amidst those representatives of the criminal clans whose involvement in the local dirty business she described. Federica’s investigation made headlines in Ostia, and as such attracted on her hostile attentions.
To endanger her job as a reporter even further, she will testify about a bloody act of violence that she has witnessed by chance. It was the night of July 15th, 2013. The clans who had threatened Federica were at loggerheads and decided to settle the score with guns and knives just near her home. These things happen even today, not twenty kilometres from Rome.
That night all the people in the neighbourhood heard the gunshots. Many watched the scene from behind the blinds. But she stepped out onto the balcony, took a good look, and saw who they were. She felt compelled to observe the scene, as only a cold-blooded reporter could have, with the expert eye of those who, by profession, are trained to gather information in a short time and in precarious situations. That night Federica gathered the information and wrote for her newspaper the detailed chronicle of the shooting. She felt compelled to report what she had seen to the investigators who were on the case in order to find out who ran from one side and who feld on the other. She was summoned at the police department immediately after the shooting.
Federica had no doubts about testifying and recount what she had seen. But after that testimony, she realized she had provoked violent and dangerous people who already had their eyes set on her and wanted to make her pay for her actions. She felt the world crashing. She spoke to fellow journalists who understood the situation. She had a crying jag in the newsroom. Colleagues and editors comforted her, and activated immediately to seek the newspaper’s management’s support and find, in less than 24 hours, the Prefect of Rome able to give her police protection. The situation appeared very serious. She was a reporter, she had been threatened, and now she was the witness for the prosecution in a trial for a violent crime. She was first advised not to go public with her condition, including the fact that she was under protection. It was only natural. There were on-going investigations into the shootings and the threats of two months before; and investigators had been working for months – as everyone knew – on a big police operation against those very clans in Ostia. An operation which was considered imminent. Indeed, just four days later, there was a big haul and 51 people were arrested. The emergency situation was evident.
There stands a principle: “the greater the public visibility of the threatened, the stronger the protective shield ensured by the security forces”. And on the basis of this principle, some wanted to immediately disclose the news of the danger in which Federica was. But she preferred to follow the police advice and restrained the publication. Emergency situations such as this one, immediately after an actual testimony had been given, require a newspaper to curb the urge to publish a story so serious that involves its own reporters.
But for how long can an emergency situation last without becoming a more permanent condition? Aren’t there other phases? Does the obscuring of the facts weigh on the very same victim? Certainly the censoring of Federica’s story lasted a very long time, longer than could be conceived: so much so that this insulation that was supposed to protect her, began actually weakening her. Federica felt it, and after ten months began writing on what had happened to her, what she was going through, why she was under police protection. She began writing notes on social networks. She issued a statement on the web. Then she began telling her story at public meetings. Finally, she asked her newspaper to break the silence and turned to Ossigeno per L’Informazione in order to make her situation understood, as much as her decision to come out of the shadows and explain the necessity of knowing the risks she is facing, make clear that the armed protection that surrounds her is not a status symbol, but something that she would rather avoid: a requirement, a cage imposed by circumstances, a stress-generating machine, limiting her freedom of movement and her professional activity.
Ossigeno has met with Federica and listened to her exciting story, read the papers and articles that have been published, saw the videos of the investigation, consulted her colleagues and the newsroom of La Repubblica, and in the end agreed with their, concluded that it was appropriate to make her story known, in her own interest and in the interests of press freedom.
Federica’s story tells us also about the country we live in. A country where a journalist of a major newspaper carries out an investigation into the mafia infiltrations into public life at the gates of the capital city, and is subjected to threats. A country where a reporter is an eyewitness to a gunfight, writes in the paper and tells investigators what, and must now live under protection. A country in which to be a dutiful journalist and citizen is becoming increasingly difficult and risky. And let us not forget the many journalists who have been for years in need of protection in order to continue to live and work.
Federica’s story tells us of a real Italy where these things happen. An Italy much different from the free and peaceful country in which many of us are convinced to live, lulled by the belief that such terrible things can happen only “elsewhere”, in Russia say, or in Turkey, or in the remote villages where the collective imagination tends to locate a setting for the Mafia and its crimes. It is not so. It is time to wake up. These things happen in Italy, in the heart of Italy, near the centre of Rome. The story of Federica says it clearly. It invites us to reflect and to open our eyes. It calls on the institutions to protect more openly the exemplary civic behaviour and investigative journalism. It says, along with other stories, that the need of protection is not exclusive to those frontier reporters of small newspapers, local correspondents, freelancers and temporary workers, but also includes the reporters of the major Italian newspapers, since it is becoming difficult for all to report to the public opinion what is actually happening.
Ms Federica Angeli deserves the utmost understanding, the highest security and, therefore, the greatest of visibility. Federica Angeli deserves the full and active solidarity of Ossigeno per L’Informazione, and the support of all journalists and the institutions. The commitment of her newspaper, which is close by, is important. As is equally important that the State continues to protect her with continuity and efficiency, as it has done so far. And yet it is not enough. A collective commitment is required to ensure that Federica will be able to go back as soon as possible and do her job as an investigative journalist without being threatened and without being surrounded by officers with weapons drawn. We still wish that in this country there will be full freedom of the press, and where threatening anyone who bears witness to the reality, and speaks in the interests of citizens and justice, will not be tolerated.