Italy. The most dangerous news from July 2015 reported by Ossigeno
Monthly report on acts of intimidation, created by the European Center for Press and Media Freedom of Leipzig (ECPMF) with the support of the European Union
Thirty journalists were sentenced to 17 years in prison for libel. It did not happened in Turkey, but in the civilized Italy in the last four years, that is since Parliament has been discussing the bill that aims precisely to abolish the prison sentence for those who unjustifiably harm someone else’s reputation. The sentences were issued one after the other and no one noticed it until Ossigeno published a dossier proving it. The dossier, available online here, was presented on July 3rd at a press conference in the Chamber of Deputies and was delivered to the President of the Senate and the President of the Republic. Based on these data, the president of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, commented, it is urgent to approve the proposed law that abolishes imprisonment. Ossigeno stressed that probably the prison sentences are yet more numerous and called on the Minister of Justice to provide Parliament with the official data in its possession. Despite the resounding data of thirty journalists convicted, despite the hype and pressure on the executive, politicians have not replied, and few newspapers, radio and television broadcasters have spread the news.
Meanwhile, the approval in Parliament of a lapidary amendment that proposes to punish with imprisonment from six months to four years anyone who, journalist or not, “in order to harm the reputation or image of others, spreads video footage or audio recordings of conversations conducted in his presence and distributed fraudulently”, unless said recordings become evidence in a legal proceeding and are carried out to exercise the right of defense, have sparked hectic and indignant protests.
Needless to say that in such a way audio and video footage are outlawed, although these are the main activities of the much praised citizen journalism, which contributes to denounce scandals, abuses and inefficiencies. Probably, after the Minister of Justice has distanced himself, the proposal will be binned. But this episode, and the silence on the trickle of prison sentences for libel, clearly shows a climate of intolerance towards freedom of expression.
Moreover, the decision adopted on July 27th by the Public Prosecutor of Palermo to accuse two journalists of publishing false and tendentious news, an offense under Article 656 of the Criminal Code for which there imprisonment for up to three months is prescribed, has sparked a furious debate. The journalists are Piero Messina and Maurizio Zoppi, authors of a scoop published on the weekly L’Espresso on July 13th that reveals details of a judicial inquiry that prosecutors believe to be false. One of the two journalists is under investigation for slander. Both will have to clarify to the Order of Journalists of Sicily whether they were acting in compliance with professional ethics.
In Italy, as usual, there is much discussion on the obstacles that are put in place in other countries against freedom of information, but there is silence on what happens at home, or there is just some generic talk about it, in abstract terms, ignoring facts, figures and strict references coming from international institutions.
The same treatment was also reserved to the important calls expressed on July 2nd, 2015 in Rome, at the international conference on the protection of journalists organized by Ossigeno. Among other things, during the conference the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) envoy, Ulrike Schmidt, has listed in detail the points of the draft law on defamation that do not meet European standards. Its good to abolish prison sentences, he said, but what about decriminalization? And why foresee so high and disproportionate fines? Nobody answered.
In turn, during the conference, the London-based expert William Horsley explained that the new laws in Italy solicited by Ossigeno are in full harmony with the last four UN resolutions on the protection of journalists, and also echo the recent official warnings from the Council of Europe.
During the meeting the President of the Senate Piero Grasso said that now is not enough to denounce what is happening, as Ossigeno is doing, but it is time that the institutions act to protect journalists. An important admission came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni. He stated that in Italy the press is free but journalists, many journalists are not. The Vice President of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Committee Claudio Fava announced that the data gathered by Ossigeno would be verified and analyzed in depth.
The conference – which we will discuss more fully in the next monthly report – showed progress in the position of the Italian government and the convergent will of all players in the world of information to find common ground for a commitment to defend freedom of information from attacks that can not be rejected until the current laws will have been updated.
Moreover, the acts of intimidation recorded in July by Ossigeno confirm that the alarm raised by the Observatory about a progressive worsening of the phenomenon is not unfounded. This reality is upheld by the fact that a year after receiving death threats, the journalist Michele Albanese must still be under police protection; that the journalist Federica Angeli has been in the same conditions of danger and protection for two years, just as Sandro Ruotolo and Paolo Borrometi also have been for the past few months; that in July of 2015, two other journalists, Nello Trocchia and Mimmo Carrieri, have suffered serious threats that require protective measures, even if the State has not yet acted on it.
One of the latest targets is the journalist collaborator of the weekly L’Espresso. In June 2015 a Camorra henchman, who is in prison, planned to kill him. The police, who reported the matter to the judiciary, picked up the conversation. After two months, the public security authorities have not yet intervened.
The intolerance towards journalistic information also continues to manifest itself in various forms. With unjustifiable discriminations, such as the expulsion of three reporters from the palace of justice where a powerful character was being questioned, or the holding of press conferences to which only certain journalists are invited.
The same intolerance can be found in the threatening messages sent to reporters of the newspaper Il Tempo from characters that recent criminal investigations consider connected to Islamic terrorism and the ISIS network.
It can also be found in the threat of lawsuit by the local politician who considers defamatory to revive on newspapers the serious allegations that he made on Facebook.
But, fortunately, there are also good news, as the acquittal in Santa Maria Capua Vetere of the columnist David De Stavola.
Last month’s timeline
On July 2 it was held in the Senate the international conference “Protecting Journalists, knowing inconvenient truths”, organized with the support of the European Commission, sponsored by the Senate, by the union and by the Order of Journalists, and which was undersigned by the OSCE, the Association of European Journalists and numerous other associations of the Italian media sector.
The next day, at the House of Representatives, there was a press conference in which Ossigeno published its dossier on prison sentences for defamation against Italian journalists from 2011 to date.
On the same day the editor of the roman daily Il Tempo, Gian Marco Chiocci, said in an op-ed column published on the front page (entitled “The more they threaten us, the more we’ll go forward”) threats against his newspaper uttered by an Italian woman, converted to ISIS, and recorded on a phone tap. To this episode, Chiocci explained, many more must be added that occurred over the past two years, both in writing and on the phone.
Always on July 3rd, 2015 the sports club Napoli Calcio invited to the press conference for the presentation of the new coach, only those journalists from several newspapers, excluding others, who protested but remained outside the door. The professional organizations have called the behavior of the company inappropriate and reminded that yet at other times the directors of the same club had acted in the same way.
In the first days of the month, the Gruppo Cronisti Lombardi has appealed to the city authorities and institutions of Milan, seeking the cancellation from the walls of the city of the writings that bear insults and threats against journalists, “guilty” of having reported delicate news episodes. Some of these writings have been deleted, but not yet many others.
On July 5th Mimmo Carrieri was blocked for an hour and a half by twenty people: they stole his phone and camera, which the journalist, active defender of the environment and the historical and artistic heritage of the region of Puglia, was using to document the failure to respect the no parking and no camping signs in an area that is subject to archaeological restrictions. Carrieri is already under police protection since 2012, when he received death threats. That protection, he now complaints, could no longer be enough: he fears for himself and for his family, because, on top of this aggression, he had been threatened a few weeks before with an anonymous letter.
On July 7th, the weekly L’Espresso published the threats to his chronicler Nello Trocchia, in the crosshairs of two Camorra henchmen for publishing news and inquiries about them. On June 10th, the Police reported to the Anti-mafia Prosecutor of Naples that an aerial phone tap revealed the danger run by the journalist, but after a month no protection measure for him had yet been set up. “I’m gonna smash that reporter’s skull, and then they can arrest me”, one of the tapped said.
On July 17th, outside the building of the Prosecutor of Naples, three journalists have been identified and removed by the police. They were there to follow the interrogation of the president of the Lazio football club, Mr Claudio Lotito. The incident was reported by the Order of Journalists of Campania.
Two days later, the online magazine of Ferrara Estense.com reported in an article in the words of a leader of the right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia, who wrote on his Facebook profile a few sentences explaining how he would deal with immigrants and refugees entering Italy: that is, by exterminating them. To this article the man reacted by threatening to sue the newspaper for libel.
Ossigeno then reported the absolution (for “lack of evidence”) ordered on June 10th by the Court of Santa Maria Capua Vetere (in the province of Caserta) in favor of the journalist Davide De Stavola, who had been accused by an entrepreneur for libel. Along with him, the former editor of the online newspaper www.pignataronuova.it, Mr Salvatore Minieri, was charged: the proceedings against him ended with the withdrawal of the lawsuit and the payment of the court costs covered by the journalist.
Ossigeno July’s numbers
Aggressions, personal threats, also through banners and graffiti, acts of discrimination and arbitrary exclusions, abuses of the law, threats of legal action: these are the types of acts of intimidation against journalists reported from the observatory Ossigeno per l’Informazione in July 2015. The names of the victims are listed in Table 2015, and marked with the numbers from 146 to 153. They are eight cases involving twenty journalists, active on the web and on the printed press. So far this year, the Intimidation Counter set up by Ossigeno reported 226 new acts of intimidation, of which 146 occurring in 2015 and 80 in previous years and so far unknown. Started in 2006, the counter has now reached 2371. According to Ossigeno estimates, for each act of intimidation that is known and documented at least ten others remain unknown to the Observatory because the victims do not have the strength to make them public.
Its the figure that emerges from the Report on Defamation presented at a press conference in Rome by the Observatory on threatened reporters in Italy.
In a phone tap they are defined as “unbelievers that Allah, sooner or later, will hit and destroy.” The op-ed column by Chiocci. Solidarity from MPs.
Protests from journalist organizations excluded from the first meeting with the new head coach of the team. Remove from the walls of Milan threats against journalists
The Gruppo Cronisti Lombardi has appealed to the mayor, the prefect and the superintendent of Milan to clear from the walls of the city the writings containing insults and threats against journalists (especially Gianni Santucci and Andrea Galli of the Corriere della Sera) who reported delicate news episodes.
Since 2012 Mimmo Carrieri is under police protection. On July 5th, 2015 twenty people blocked him for 90 minutes and took away his camera and his phone.
The journalist Nello Trocchia has learned from a confidential disclosure from the Carabinieri to be in the crosshairs of two Camorra henchmen planning serious reprisals, who used phrases that are considered explicit threats.
They were waiting for Claudio Lotito to come out, after being subjected to interrogation. Protest from the Order of Journalists.
A right-wing politician wrote on his profile that he would exterminate immigrants. Now he wants to sue Estense.com, which published the news.
The journalist – sued along with his colleague Salvatore Minieri, against whom the complaint has been withdrawn – was cleared from the imputation of libel “because the crime does not exist”.
The offense denunced by the prosecutor of Palermo after questioning. The reporters say they acted in good faith. They also revealed the trusted source.