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The way we were 2100 threats ago. Reflections for the FNSI Congress

The 27th assizes will open on Tuesday, January 27 in Chianciano Terme in a difficult situation also because of the high number of threats and specious lawsuits

It seems that a century has gone by since we were speaking of intimidation of Italian journalists as something sporadic, since some of us – in November 2007, in Castellaneta Marina – put before the Congress of the FNSI the need to monitor these episodes. We had some clues, but even we did not believe that intimidation was as frequent and widespread as we know today.

Today it is acceptable, but at that time it seemed a blasphemy to say that, with the abuse of complaints and lawsuits for defamation, an improper censorship was being imposed. Also, the mistaken belief that in Italy threats hit only daredevil reporters who dared to challenge the leaders of the Mafia provocatively waving a red cloth under their noses, used to prevail. Only in 2010, when “Ossigeno per L’Informazione” published the first collected data, that it was clear that things were somewhat different.

The observatory was promoted by FNSI and Order of Journalists in 2009 and immediately began to systematically collect and publish specific information in a continuous stream. The summary figures updated from year to year have debunked the clichés. They have shown that: intimidation in Italy has a daily recurrence; it does not only affect the reporters of mafia; it occurs in every region; 40% are achieved through spurious and unfounded complaints; also good, prudent, and correct reporters fall into the web, indeed they are the most at risk. In 2010, in Bergamo, at the Congress of the FNSI, this perception of the phenomenon had not yet been acquired and still struggles to make headway.

It is absurd to argue with reality, but many still do today. Changing entrenched beliefs is tiring, but reality must be accepted. Today there is the need to admit that the intimidation of reporters obscures the information of public interest, just like large clouds obscure the sun’s light. We must know by now that today this is the weapon used by the bullies to stop unfavourable news. We must know that it is difficult for journalists to defend themselves because they have to fight with one arm tied behind their back, because of laws (in particular libel), codes and judicial procedures that make of their profession an impossible mission.

The bullies who want to gag reporters are not just the Mafia. They are also white-collar workers, politicians, entrepreneurs, those who do not tolerate criticism and unfavourable news and are able to perpetrate abuses through force or specious lawsuits. This is the way things are. And as such they have been well established. The international organizations are well aware, as proven by the persistent negative positioning of Italy in the international rankings on press freedom.

Who wants more details can go on line on the website www.ossigenoinformazione.it and read the names of the victims of the past eight years as compiled by Ossigeno: at the beginning of 2015 the list contains more than two thousand one hundred names. This list is known by the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, by the OSCE and by the European institutions, by Reporters Sans Frontieres, Freedom House, and the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. Finally the talk around the world on these issues has begun. The Council of Europe is building a platform for reporting threats to journalists and has involved Ossigeno along with the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists.

The alarm is high. The threats to journalists and the instrumental complaints for intimidation are the new serious disease that afflicts the freedom of information in democratic countries. It is time to open our eyes and heal ourselves. It is time that this be made the primary objective of the FNSI or it will be increasingly difficult to defend the quality of information and employment as a journalistic professional.

Alberto Spampinato is editor of Ossigeno per L’Informazion and FNSI National Councillor since 2007

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