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Protecting journalists: European strategy against intimidation

The speeches at the conference in Rome. The proposals, the analyses and the framing of a phenomenon that also affects Italy and other mature democracies

It is necessary to actively protect journalists and the work they do in order to inform citizens. Faced with the spreading of acts of intimidation and threats, this protection is necessary now more than ever, also in the more developed European countries. And it must be guaranteed by public authorities and social organizations in Italy and in Europe that more and more openly recognize the need and urgency to find solutions in the interests of democracy.

The growth of this awareness is the most relevant finding of the international conference in Rome organized by Ossigeno per l’Informazione and by the European Centre for Freedom of the press and media on July 2nd, 2015, at Palazzo Madama, seat of the Senate, with the participation of the Senate President Pietro Grasso, who opened the meeting with the journalist Sergio Zavoli, honorary president of Ossigeno, and numerous representatives of European organizations that promote freedom of expression.

GRASSO – “Thanks to the tireless work carried forward by Ossigeno we are now all aware of the vast scale of the problem of the protection of journalists and this state of affairs forces us not only to reflect but also to act”, Pietro Grasso said. The Senate President took the opportunity to express his doubts on the latest changes to the draft law on defamation, which in the coming months will return to its fourth reading in the Senate. “It is a first step to provide our country with appropriate norms on the issue. I know that some aspects are still not satisfactory, which I hope will be discussed, as much as I hope that today’s very meeting will be helpful to the parliamentary colleagues”, he added.

ZAVOLI, influential dean of Italian journalism, has given a lesson on professional ethics. He spoke of the responsibilities of those involved and the great challenges that the media are called upon. “Today ‘opinionism’ is enjoying a great success, with readers delegating to third parties the task of shaping a thought on reality. Talk and deceive are now too often synonymous”, Zavoli said. We must remember, he added, that to inform and to communicate are the first means of defense in a complex world, where fear is likely to dominate. “Ossigeno is not a metaphor, nor a corporate body. It is a tool that indicates the pitfalls from which our profession must defend itself from those who want journalism to be less free” he concluded.

CIOTTI – To protect journalists means protecting democracy, Father Luigi Ciotti said, because “either information is free or it isn’t information.” “The first form of protection for the journalist is the ethics of journalism, which requires the search for truth and a correct approach to the news”, the president of the Libera association added. Often the reporter’s freedom is compressed directly by the publisher, who imposes a way of telling the facts and is often influenced by the instrumental use of defamation charges, and we of Libera know it well – he said – since after twenty years we are still on trial for this crime, i.e. having said that the charges published by a newspaper against the memory of Don Peppe Diana were ‘rubbish’. As such – he continued – all of us needs more oxygen to breathe truly free information” In conclusion, Don Ciotti said that “information should be first of all ‘education’, and recalled the many journalists who, becuase they were not being protected, have paid the search for truth with life, with silence, with bans”.

The 150 conference participants listened to the speeches of Italian and foreign speakers and messages sent by the president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks.

SCHULTZ – “There is no better defender of journalism than journalism itself. To document, to report and to investigate attacks on freedom of expression, and do so with joint means and strategies, will give a direct material support to journalists under duress”, Schulz stressed.

GENTILONI – “I don’t think that we can say that information in Italy is not free. I believe – the minister Paolo Gentiloni wrote – that many journalists are not free. Not free to write the truth, not free to investigate, not free to exercise the most of their profession. I think about acts of intimidation and threats against those who deal daily with hard issues like the mafia or organized crime”.

MUKKE – Lutz Mukke then presented the European Center for Press and Media Freedom, which opened on June 15th, 2015 in Leipzig, and of which Ossigeno is one of the promoters. “With this initiative,” he explained, “we want to join a community fragmented as regard the measures to be taken for the protection of journalists. We have built a common center to be able to coordinate the necessary actions for the protection of freedom and independence of the media and the press: but to do that we need the support of the entire community.”

HORSLEY – Willam Horlsey, Media Freedom Representative of the Association of European Journalists, presented some real life cases of the difficulties and limitations of freedom of expression in Europe. According to Horsley, “what is foremost needed is a change in the political culture, and that European states adopt legislative changes that promote Article 10 (the one on the freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights”.

LICINA – Radomir Licina, journalist and editor from Belgrade, of the observatory South East European Media Organisation SEEMO, described the situation in Serbia and the Balkans: “The picture after the war has not improved much: the media are used by other powers for their own interests, and many journalists are threatened. But it is also true that in some countries of South and Eastern Europe it is difficult to distinguish many journalists from those who do public relations”.

OSCE – Ulrike Schmidt, of the Vienna office of the Representative on Freedom of expression of the OSCE, focused instead on defamation, confirming the negative judgment of the major European institutions for the fact that in our country it still represents a criminal offense. “The OSCE recommends the complete decriminalization of defamation. Italy could take the opportunity to modernize its legislation, but it has lost this opportunity”, she said clearly.

SPAMPINATO – About the problems within the bill before Parliament, also Alberto Spampinato, director of Ossigeno, commented: “This is like Penelope’s weaving, whereby the Italian parliament undoes at night what it has accomplished during the day. In the various steps some improvements were introduced, but also some deteriorations that must be remedied as soon as the law will be approved.” He then launched some concrete proposals to take concrete steps for the protection of journalists: “it is necessary”, he said “to have a solidarity fund to assist journalists and bloggers that are victims of threats , and even open a hotline for the public to report violations to the authorities and institutions. Furthemore, there should also be a shared code to set out how the media should deal with cases of intimidation against reporters, and create non-judicial bodies for the settlement of disputes between newspapers and readers”. Spampinato has also stated his support for the proposal by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, to create a pan-European network of national observers on violations of freedom of the press run by non-governmental organizations.

FAVA – Claudio Fava, vice president of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, has anticipated some of the contents of the report on threats to Italian journalists, which the Commission will adopt in the coming days. “Our job,” he said, “highlights a worrying phenomenon, pervasive throughout the country: the growing number of threatened journalists. There are no regions that are immune, but we have become aware that there is a new generation of young people who work with courage, despite the few protections they enjoy, becoming interpreters and heirs of a tradition of journalists of old, of those who have paid with their lives”.

On the Italian situation, also different representatives of media organizations have expressed their concerns and their opinions: the president of the Order of Journalists Enzo Iacopino; the Secretary of the National Press Federation Raffaele Lorusso; the MP Antonio Martusciello, commissioner of the Italian Communications Authority (“the real challenge is not to have more information, but more quality information, and it is probably a challenge that has yet to be overcome” he said); Fabrizio Carotti, Director of the Italian Federation of Publishers, who stressed the importance of concrete coordination between his category and the journalists for achieving greater freedom. Giuseppe Giulietti, spokesman for Articolo21, proposed a close cooperation among all international organizations defending press freedom.


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