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Milan. Landmark ruling: Judge condemns plaintiff to pay 18 thousand euro

The civil court ordered the corporation SGS to pay the amount to Mr Paolo Carta, journalist of L’Unione Sarda who in 2012 had written an article on Salto di Quirra

It asked for 500 thousand euro in compensation, instead the multinational corporation SGS, a giant of chemical and environmental controls, was ordered to pay 18 thousand euros in favor of the journalist unjustly sued, Paolo Carta of L’Unione Sarda, and of the editor of the paper, Paolo Figus. The lawyer of the newspaper, Giovanni Contu, does not remember ever seeing such a sentencing, “not even in case law.” “I hope – Contu says – that this pronouncement gives courage to reporters and hopefully will allow the rest of the judiciary to understand that too often to sue means to gag the press.

“It all starts on April 21, 2012 with the publication on L’Unione Sarda of an article, signed by Paolo Carta, which gives an account of the investigation initiated by the prosecutor in Lanusei on the effects of environmental pollution in the vicinity of the military polygon of Salto di Quirra. Specifically, the article reveals the interrelations between the company that manufactures missiles suspected of releasing radioactive thorium, controlled by Oto Melara, and the company in charge of environmental controls, SGS. Both belong to the FIAT ecosystem. The President of SGS is Sergio Marchionne. The prosecutor noted, and Carta wrote, that this conflict of interest has meant that the exams have been held loosely and from which pollution testing on the explosive devices never gave positive results.

SGS immediately promoted a civil and criminal case prosecution. On April 8, 2013, the prosecutor of Cagliari, Paolo De Angelis, asked and obtained from the judge for the preliminary investigation the filing of the criminal complaint. Already in this occasione, the magistrate highlights that one thing is the truth of the facts, and another thing is the sacred right of the journalist to report the data of the ongoing investigation: “The reporter exposed them, based on the sources and the conclusions of the public prosecutor, thus making a correct use of the acquired information and explained, just as appropriately, to the readers.” And it states: “It must therefore be concluded for the inexistence of defamation, because the information was correct, adequate, relevant and well sourced, as well as for the obvious recurrence of the exercise of freedom of the press and, more generally, information, arising from the constitutional importance of freedom of expression.”

The story does not end here. SGS insists with the civil proceedings, but the judge finds it in the wrong. On 28 February, the judge of the court of Milan, Anna Cattaneo, condemns the corporation to 9 thousand euros of legal fees and a further 18 thousand euros o be paid to the journalist and to the editor of the newspaper of Cagliari. Here too, the magistrate points out, with painstaking detail, that the reporter published court documents during an ongoing investigation, which is in its full right, even though the legal truth may be different. “The truth of the news borrowed from a court act – as the judgment reads – is upheld not when the fact is true in itself, but, when first reported by the journalist, it is faithful to the content of the order of the judge or of the acts of the proceedings, meaning that it is sufficient that the article matches the content of the acts and measures of the judicial authority, since it can not be requested of the journalist to prove the validity of the decisions made in court.” It would be different, however, if the journalist were to produce “reconstructions or assumptions that tend to support or replace the investigative agencies.” The judge, moreover, remembered the enormous social importance of the case and the danger of radioactive pollution. And emphasizing the clear inconsistency of the arguments, the conclusion is that SGS “wanted to undertake this procedure being fully aware of its wrongfulness or, at least, by failing to apply due diligence in the acquisition of awareness of one’s tort.”

It is precisely on this element that the lawyer Giovanni Contu insists: “Why insist in a case, when there was already an archiving by the magistrate for the preliminary investigations, and when you have few elements supporting your casel? The truth is that they did not want the newspaper talking about pollution in Salto di Quirra, they wanted it to stop writing about it. This is the purpose: to frighten, intimidate, force caution.” Paolo Carta concludes: “The only comment I can make is that they I am being sued for publishing charges presented by the judiciary””.

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