Italy. The most dangerous news of June 2015 reported by Ossigeno
Monthly review of news on acts of intimidation, created by Ossigeno for the European Centre for Prres and Media Freedom of Leipzig (ECPMF) with the support of the European Commission
Twenty-eight June 2015. Two hundred and six in the first six months of the year. These numbers summarize the results of the monitoring of violations of freedom of information that occurred in Italy in the form of intimidation against journalists and bloggers, and which Ossigeno per l’Informazione reported.
Some of these threats are very serious and the circumstances in which they occur increase the concerns for they are welcomed by general indifference, and of most of them hardly any media reports them, and as such do not cause politicians to open their eyes and accelerate the steps for addressing this problem. Yet it is well established that in Italy the abuse of complaints for libel is easy and enables to impose a tangible censorship on unwelcome news to the powerful. And it is in the natural order of things that this abuse will continue with unrelenting frequency as long as the public authorities do not have appropriate countermeasures. Unfortunately, lawmakers are yet to give a much needed answer.
In June 2015, for example, the Italian Parliament has given up on rebalancing the laws on libel, as it has given up on creating the necessary deterrent to put an end to the abuse of complaints and lawsuits for damages. Indeed, there is no rebalancing, no effective brake on spurious lawsuits in the new version of the draft law on defamation approved in June by the Chamber of Deputies. And it can not be said that there was not enough time to do it: this bill has been debated in the halls of Parliament for three years and the result being shapen after three readings is the litmus test of the political will to address the problem.
“Some amendments adopted by the House – commented Alberto Spampinato, Director of Ossigeno – are certainly an improvement, but the system remains a negative one all the same, where there are numerous limitations and the knots that have been identified for some time have not been loosened. Amongst these knots: failure to decriminalize; failure to set commensurate fines to the economic capability of the offender; the failure to distinguish between defamation and intentional libel; the lack of a real deterrent against the use of intimidating lawsuits.” Also Raffaele Lorusso, the secretary of the FNSI, the journalists’ unitary union, emphasized this point, when he said that, with the new version, the law has taken a step forward but still contains critical issues. The well-known journalist Franco Abruzzo, on the other hand, has released a harsh judgments since he sees “too many negative points and shadows.”
As is known, Italian law provides for a sentence of up to six years in prison for those convicted of aggravated defamation. In 2012 the current reform proposal was born out precisely with the aim to abolish prison sentences and replace them with fines. In three years, parliament did not succeed and it seems that it has no hurry to reach the finish line. Meanwhile, what is going on? Judges issue new prison sentences. How many? The government does not say so, it does not provide any data. Therefore the data collected by Ossigeno applies, and according to it from 2011 to the present day at least thirty Italian journalists were sentenced to prison terms for defamation for a total of 17 years jail time. Although the sentences were suspended and no journalist is effectively in prison, the chilling effect on freedom of information is obvious, since a further condemnation of the same kind would trigger an arrest. Detailed data are available from the dossier of Ossigeno published in Rome on July 3rd, 2015 and available online.
However, as regards acts of intimidation against journalists politicians, institutions and the media shed an almost absolute silence. The intimidation of journalists is a taboo issue. But not for everyone. There are indeed always new voices that break the bounds of silence. Some influential voices are causing deep cracks in a compact front so far, and the last two cracks suggest that the collapse of the wall of silence is now at hand.
On June 18, Pietro Grasso, the chairman of the Senate, the second-highest power of the State, has drawn attention to the high number of acts of intimidation against journalists committed to investigate facts of corruption and mafia. “In Italy, many journalists, far too many, because of the issues they deal with, have been threatened with subtlety through lawsuits and daring complaints or more directly by violence”, the President of the Senate said in a conference. In December 2014, he added, it was truly remarkable to witness the judiciary ordering the arrest of some people for mafia infiltration within the City Council of Rome. But it must be said that the judiciary came two years after that “the same people were at the centre of a journalistic investigation lead by the journalist Lirio Abbate and serialized in the weekly magazine L’Espresso. And if I wanted to, I could produce many other examples. The point is that investigative journalism, that is the serious and professional sort, can bring out these realities, regardless of judicial investigations.” “Even in the fight against corruption, the role of newspapers is crucial. Often – Grasso concluded – it is reporters who discover irregularities in the assignment of public tenders”.
Just as meaningful as the words of the President of the Senate, on June 16th, the AGCOM, the public authority for Communications, has inserted the data on threatened journalists in Italy gathered by Ossigeno in an official report. In its document, the AGCOM defines the spread and impact of threats in the various Italian regions as a growing issue.
The AGCOM cites data by the Observatory, summarizing them in a graphics elaboration, computing, region by region, the incidence of acts of intimidation relative to the number of journalists working in the same area. The intimidation against journalists, the AGCOM stated, affect the “overall democratic hold of some important areas of our country” because, among other things, the press plays a supervisory role on the process of selection of its leaders. The numbers show that, in absolute terms, Lazio, Campania and Lombardy are the regions where there is the greatest number of threats, but this is due, for Lazio and Lombardy in particular, to the greater presence of journalists. The figures in per cent show a more worrying reality. Referring only to “active” journalists, that is those engaged full time in the profession, it is possible to see how the Basilicata region is at greater risk with 16.4% of threats, followed by Sicily with 14.8%, Calabria with 13.6%, and Campania with 10.6%. Impressive percentages that oblige the AGCOM Commissioners to state, and rightly so, that in Italy there is a real weak spot for democracy which has reached dangerous levels.
An equally meaningful sign that political attitudes are changing was the message that on July 2nd, 2015 the Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni, sent to Ossigeno per l’Informazione at the international conference entitled “Protecting journalists and know uncomfortable truths”, promoted by Ossigeno along with the European Centre for Freedom of the press and media of Leipzig. The Minister touched on the point of intimidation by saying: “I do not think that in Italy we can say that information is not free. Instead, I believe that many journalists are not free: free to write the truth, free to investigate, free to exercise their profession at the best of their abilities.” The Minister’s message was read during the Conference of Rome, which was attended by journalists from various countries, Italian MPs, AGCOM representatives, Italian and European associations of journalists, the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Also very significant were the messages sent to the Conference by the President of the European Parliament and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. While awaiting a more detailed report, it is possible to listen to the recordings, both in Italian and in English, at the following link.
Acts of intimidation and lawsuits
Each of the episodes in June, listed as follows, is deeply concern. But four of them deserve particular attention and therefore they are reported first. These are the cases of Seregno, of Claudio Lazzaro, of Donato Ungaro and of the monthly Voce delle Voci.
In Seregno, in the Lombardy region, for two years a mayor pelted with nine consecutive lawsuits a blog that criticized him. The judges have filed all the lawsuits deeming them unfounded and abusive, but did not dispute to the presumptuous plaintiff neither the rashness nor the persecutory attitude nor the deliberate attempt to obstruct the freedom of information. The case came to light on June 19 because the former mayor of the town of Seregno, during a public ceremony, of which a video recording was broadcast, he wished the editors of the local blog infonodo.org to die. In response, the blogger Michele Costa and his colleagues have published a detailed list of libel suits from the former mayor of Seregno, stressing that they have all been filed by the judges. Ossigeno asked why, in the face of a long series of complaints with a clear intent of intimidation, the judges have not pursued the plaintiff.
On June 12th, in Rome, the journalist Claudio Lazzaro, author of a documentary video on the members of the movement “Nazi rock”, was convicted of defamation for having pointed at political far-right inclinations of those interviewed. In particular Lazarus was criticized for not having published in full a long interview in which the representatives of the far-right movement claimed their positions. It was not considered sufficient that the full text was available among the DVD extras in the marketed product.
In Emilia Romagna, Donato Ungaro, municipal police officer and journalist, laid off by the City of Brescello in 2002 because of an article, after 13 years has finally been righted by court, but has not yet been reinstated at work. Ungaro was a freelance correspondent for a newspaper and carried out this activity with the consent of the mayor, who, however, after the publication of an article he didn’t like, deprived him of his job as a municipal police officer.
On July 7th, the journalists and the publishing cooperative of the monthly La Voce delle Voci await a decision from the Court of Campobasso that could change the fate of their newspaper, which has ceased publications due to a conviction for defamation that led to the seizure of the offices and of personal property. Now the judge who had issued the sentence against the journalists Andrea Cinquegrani and Rita Pennarola is under investigation for abuse of office precisely because of that judgment, and could be indicted for it.
On June 4th, a senior executive of the Abruzzo region sued a journalist for the online news site Aquila Blog, Maria Cattini, and the editor in charge of the news Germana D’Orazio, because they published the news of the annulment of the public open competition with which the executive was hired 16 years ago.
On June 6th, Danilo Lupo, a journalist for Telerama TV, local radio station of Lecce, in Puglia, was acquitted of libel of which he stood accused by a collaborator of justice. Lupo had revealed the names of some criminals who had buried toxic wastes illegally and came under investigation. The judges recognized the freedom of the press.
On June 9th, the well-known television host Michele Santoro of the show Annozero (broadcast on La7) was ordered to pay the broadcaster Mediaset group in the amount of 30 thousand euro. In 2011, in an interview with a daily newspaper, he had accused the broadcasting group of Silvio Berlusconi to have barged in on corporate events of the television network La 7, the smallest of the main Italian national broadcasters.
On the same June 9th, after a trial that lasted for ten years, the reporters Nicola Pepe and Nicola Patruno of the newspaper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, accused of defamation, were acquitted. In 2005 they had written that many employees of the University of Lecce, in Puglia, were related to each other and that on campus, familism and nepotism were widespread.
On June 11th, Giacomo Bottinelli, environmental journalist, member of the Anti-Vivisection League, was acquitted from the charges of defaming the association of hunters of Tuscany for saying that there were too many hunting permits and too many shotguns.
On June 11th, a contractor from Nettuno, in the Lazio region, denounced Ivo Iannozzi, chief editor of the local weekly Il Granchio, accusing him of libel and stalking. The newspaper had repeatedly reported irregularities in the activities of the entrepreneur, who manages a town sports centre.
On June 17th, public prosecutors have requested to archive complaints against Enzo Palmesano and Davide De Stavola, reporters for the online news services Pignataro maggiore news and Caleano24ore.it for their articles in which they stated that the candidacy to the national elections of a former mayor of a town in the Campania region was denied because of his contacts with organized crime.
On June 17th, the reporter Samantha Dell’Edera of the newspaper Il Corriere del Mezzogiorno, was hit on social networks from a barrage of violent and sexist insults. On the same day she reported in a well documented article that among the employees of the public transport company of Bari there was a high number of absences while an important football match was being shown on TV.
On June 19th, the former President of the Lombardy Region, Roberto Formigoni, was sentenced to pay a 5 thousand euro fine plus legal costs for a vexatious litigation against Milena Gabanelli, author and host of the television show of investigative journalism Report (broadcast on RaiTre), and the journalist Alberto Nerazzini. The judges have shown the complete groundlessness of a lawsuit filed in 2012, ascertaining its intento to intimidate. It is one of the rare judgments of this kind.
On June 23, the reporter Maurizio Bolognetti of Radio Radicale was filming the area around an industrial plant in an area of Basilicata that is at risk of pollution, when he was stopped by the police who have identified him and ordered him not to film. One of the officers accompanied the order with a gesture to free his gun from the holster, an obvious gesture of intimidating importance.
On 18th June the Court of Milan rejected the request for 800 thousand euro of damages by the entrepreneur Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, former president of Ferrari, against Oscar Giannino (candidate in the recent political elections) and the journalists Giuseppe Castellini and Andrea Luccioli of the Corriere dell’Umbria. In a campaign rally, Giannino said that Montezemolo had sought alliances in exchange for votes and seats. The two journalists had simply reported that sentence.
On June 15th, the director of the Vatican press office has withdrawn accreditation to the journalist Sandro Magister, historical expert on the Vatican for the weekly L’Espresso, contesting that he had published in advance the contents of the new encyclical by the Pope “Laudato Si”. The journalist has accepted the decision without replicating, attributing the decision to violate the embargo to the editor of his newspaper.
Finally, it is worthy to note the arrest of the murderer of Mario Piccolino, blogger and lawyer killed in Formia (Lazio) in May 2015. The police believe that what has drawn the murderous instinct was the resentment of a man who lost a court case for a building permit violation that saw him opposed to a person who sought legal aid precisely from Mario Piccolino.
Twenty-two lawsuits with clear intent of intimidation plus five acts of intimidation based on insults, threats, warnings and damages. These are incidents reported by the observatory Ossigeno per l’Informazione in June 2015. The names of the victims are listed in Table 2015, and marked with the numbers ranging from 118 to 145. These are twenty eight cases involving twenty-five journalists and a blogger. The most targeted reporters are those of online news outlets (15 out of 28). The written press participates in the budget with eight reporters of 28 (belonging to 4 local newspapers and a monthly regional paper), broadcasting news with two names out of 28, that is Milena Gabanelli and Alberto Nerazzini from Report. In the first six months of 2015, the Counter of Acts of Intimidation by Ossigeno reported 206 new acts of intimidation, of which 178 occurred in 2015 and 78 in previous years but unknown until today. In 2006, when Ossigeno began the monitoring, the counter marked zero. Now it marks 2351. According to Ossigeno estimates, for each known act of intimidation that has been verified and documented, at least ten others remain unknown to Observatory because the victims do not have the strength to come out with them.
Formigoni condemned for frivolous lawsuit. 5 thousand euros to “Report” The former governor of Lombardy condemned by the Court of Milan. In 2012 he asked damages for defamation
Seregno. Former Mayor curses local blog “they must die” He said it in front of TV cameras during an official ceremony. Bloggers reply: he already filed dozens of lawsuits. Solidarity from Ossigeno
Complains of absenteeism. Insulted and threatened on facebook The journalist Samantha Dell’Edera had reported the peak of absences from work during the Champion’s League final. Solidarity from fellow journalists
Unpresentables in Pignataro. Palmesano sued. Public prosecutor calls for filing Also De Stavola has been sued for an article on the denied candidacy of former mayor Magliocca, since he stands accused of being part of the Camorra and of holding contacts with local bosses
Nettuno. Entrepreneur accuses “Il Granchio” of defamation and stalking He believes to be the victim of a campaign of persecution. Ivo Iannozzi, editor of the newspaper, replies: we are journalists, we only report facts
In 2013 Giacomo Bettinelli filed charges against the excessive and unchecked proliferation of shotguns in Tuscany. The court deemed his critiques legitimate
The story began with an article of 2005. The reporter of the Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno had written that many workers at the University of Bari were family relations –
In 2011 he said that Berlusconi had scuppered his negotiations with La7. The Court of Milan sentenced him for aggravated defamation
Danilo Lupo reported the names of the alleged buryers of toxic wastes made to investigators by a cooperating witness. One of the accused denounced the reporter –
Maria Cattini gave the news of the cancellation, after 16 years, of the first open competition won by the official who later became a manger of the regional administration
A map of spatial data on intimidation produced by the Observatory Ossigeno per l’Informazione and developed by the Authority for Communications
Enna. They defamed a reporter. Press Association and order of journalists file lawsuit To trial the two authors of a leaflet that addressed false accusations against Cristina Puglisi and a former police officer
Rome. Defamation. Condemned author documentary “Nazirock The journalist will have to pay 15 thousand euros plus expenses to the leader of the musical band “Legittima Offesa” for cuts to an interview
“L’Espresso” anticipates papal encyclical, Vatican excludes journalist The Vatican specialist has sanctioned the dean Sandro Magister. He can no longer access the Press Room. He says: “No conspiracy, my editor decided”
The lawyer Mario Piccolino, known anti-Camorra blogger from Formia, was killed in a vendetta murder linked to a civil lawsuit.
Lo ha detto il presidente del Senato al convegno “I mezzi di informazione a sostegno della legalità, la stampa a garanzia di trasparenza”
Basilicata. Giornalista filma e carabiniere slaccia la fondina Maurizio Bolognetti, giornalista di Radio Radicale, stava riprendendo l’esterno del Centro Oli di Viggiano. Dice: “È stata una brutta intimidazione”
Proteggere i giornalisti. Come? Convegno Ossigeno a Roma il 2 luglio. Al Senato con Pietro Grasso, Sergio Zavoli, don Luigi Ciotti, Claudio Fava, Giulietti, Iacopino, Lorusso, Agcom, Fieg, OSCE, EFJ, AEJ, SEEMO, OBC e oratori di vari paesi
Perché giudice archivia querele seriali ma non fa il passo successivo? Una pacata riflessione sul caso del blog di Seregno subissato da accuse di diffamazione a mezzo stampa che la magistratura ha ritenuto infondate
Brescello. Vigile-cronista licenziato vince causa col Comune Donato Ungaro 13 anni fa fu accusato di violare la riservatezza dell’amministrazione. La Cassazione gli ha dato ragione. Adesso rivuole il lavoro.
Norme un po’ più severe contro querele e liti temerarie. I giornalisti diventano creditori privilegiati. No finto diritto oblio. Ora torna al Senato.
Dovrà pagare le loro spese processuali. Lo stesso per il giornalista-candidato Oscar Giannino, a cui aveva chiesto settecentomila euro di danni per un comizio
Il 7 luglio 2015 a Campobasso il Gip decide se rinviare a giudizio per abuso d’ufficio il giudice che nel 2013 pronunciò la sentenza di condanna a 90mila euro di danni