Protecting journalists. Government progress at the Rome Conference
This article was published on the web page of the newspaper Il Mattino organized by the Polis Foundation of Naples
On top of denouncing the many violations of press freedom that occur in Italy, on top of signaling the many acts of intimidation, threats and reprisals that target every year hundreds of journalists to prevent them from describing facts and circumstances of public interest which disturb the power, it is necessary to start and do something concrete to help and protect journalists who are victims of such intimidation. It is necessary to help them resist, to defend themselves, to break the isolation, not to succumb to the censorship imposed with violence, with arrogance, with abusive complaints. It is necessary and urgent if we want to learn from newspapers also the “uncomfortable truths”, the mysteries that resist even judicial investigation, those facts and misconducts that power, the powerful, the corrupt, criminals hide precisely so that they can carry on with their illegal or dirty business practices.
Citizens have the right to know these details, uncomfortable for the powerful, so as to consciously participate in public life and prevent malfeasance. But how can journalists be protected? For quite some time tools have been identified, as well as procedures that are just waiting to be discussed and implemented. And they should be implemented urgently, and not only in war zones but also in our peaceful Italy, where journalists fight every day a low-intensity war.
At the international conference promoted by “Ossigeno per l’Informazione” and chaired by Sergio Zavoli, which took place on Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 in Rome, in a hall of the Senate, there were talks about all these issues and there have been some important steps forward. (watch the video on www.ossigeno.info) The first positive result is the express admission by the government that in Italy these acts of intimidation occur frequently, are numerous and serious, and the phenomenon is well represented by the impressive data collected by Ossigeno (2,350 journalists intimidated since 2006).
This admission marks a turnaround. Until now, the phenomenon, apart from being obscured by the media, has been blatantly denied by the authorities. At the Rome conference, the most important concessions came from the president of the Italian Senate, Pietro Grasso, the Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, the vice president of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, Claudio Fava, the chairman of the Order of Journalists, Enzo Iacopino , the secretary of the FNSI, Raffaele Lorusso, from the general manager of FIEG, Fabrizio Carotti.
“The data gathered by Ossigeno – Pietro Grasso said – is forcing us not only to ponder but also to act. There are too many threatened and yet we are unable to find appropriate solutions.” “I do not believe – the minister Gentiloni said – that in Italy we can say that the information is not free. Instead, I believe that many journalists are not free to write the truth, to investigate, to exercise their profession at the best of their abilites. I think of the daily acts of intimidation and threats against those who face issues like the mafia or organized crime.”
Claudio Fava has announced that in the coming days the Anti-Mafia Commission will publish a comprehensive report on the threats against Italian journalists. These important certifications from Italian sources have been enriched by those of authoritative international representatives: the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, the envoy of the Representative on Freedom of the media of the OSCE, Ulrike Schmidt, the director of the European Center for the Press and Media Freedom of Leipzig, Mukke Lutz, the vice president of the Association of European Journalists, William Horsley, the representative of central monitoring of the media in South East Europe (SEEMO ), Radomir Licina.
As I pointed out at the conference, this general admission of the seriousness of the problem of intimidation against Italian journalists is big news, of which Ossigeno claims the merit. This confession can finally allow to begin to discuss what to do in practice to put an end to the intimidation problem. Among other things, the change of heart of the government, as I pointed out, is not only evidenced by the words of the minister Gentiloni.
The turning point was already revealed significantly and officially. In fact, in March 2015, in Geneva, during the session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Italian representatives, for the first time, have accepted and are committed to implement some specific “recommendations” regarding freedom of the press, conflict of interest and protection of journalists. In particular, the Italian Government has pledged to “investigate and prosecute all perpetrators of crimes of violence and intimidation against journalists”, “to take the necessary legal steps to protect journalists and investigate all acts of intimidation and violence against journalists.”
Unfortunately to fix the problem it is not enough to state these solemn commitments. But the solemn commitments are important, since they make passable roads that had previously seemed inaccessible and impassable. Unfortunately, the parliament – with the exception of the Anti-Mafia Commission – has not yet made such a breakthrough. It continue to beat the old roads that subject the public interest to know the facts of public interest to a right to privacy, even in cases where it can not be invoked as pre-eminent. This is demonstrated by the very recent events of the bill on defamation and with the new idea of limiting the publication of judicial phone taps.
At the conference, Ossigeno advanced proposals on which it will collect opinions and views. Among other things, the Observatory asks to create a public office through which to communicate of the threats to all competent authorities with a single message; to set up a solidarity fund; to build a network of supportive legal assistance; to draw up a code of conduct on how to deal on the media with the news of journalists who face intimidation and threats. To denounce violations of press freedom is important, but is not enough. And civil society? As Father Luigi Ciotti said, it cannot only be touched, but it must move, it must take sides, it must do its fair share.