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August 2015. The most dangerous news 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 

Despite every August all of Italy goes on leave and all activities slow down to a halt, in Italy this month there have been a number of serious violations of press freedom, perpetrated with abuse and intimidation of media workers.

August, however, has also brought two major good news. The first, the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission has approved a report on threats against journalists containing interesting proposals: among other things, to change the Criminal Code to truly protect freedom of information. The second good news is the strong appeal that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the media launched to the Italian government. Dunja Mijatovic said: “You have to better protect your journalists”, and stressed that the recurrence of severe intimidation and attacks against them and the impunity of the aggressors makes the change of pace as urgent as ever. A very hard appeal, if one is reminded that relations are governed by diplomatic ethics.

These two novelties show that the work that Ossigeno has been carrying on for years and exclusively, away from the spotlight and sensationalism, to document objectively what is happening in Italy, is not useless and is bearing fruit. These innovations give hope that soon the wind will change, but so far have they have not changed the gravity of the current situation, characterized by the fact that some journalists at risk of being killed by the mafia that threatened them can not get from the State the protection that is due.

This is for example the condition of the journalist Paolo Borrometi, who for a year has been living under police protection. In the same situation are, in Taranto, the journalist Mimmo Carrieri and, in Naples, Nello Trocchia.

Other acts of intimidation in August

In Tarquinia (province of Viterbo), one hundred kilometers from Rome, the journalist Sara Giudice was attacked while being broadcast live. In Rome, Christian Rosso, employee of the municipal urban transport company has been suspended for a few shifts from work because he dissented on Facebook from the company’s explanation on the causes of the delays in bus times in the capital. At the Stadium of Genoa, fans of the local soccer team have raised a banner threatening Dario Freccero, sports commentator of the newspaper Il Secolo XIX. To avoid an invasive search, two journalists from the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano handed magistrates document files that sparked their scoop. In Venice, a judge sued for libel the known singer Adriano Celentano, who in an article had criticized a court’s decision.

In Milan, the police proceeded to the identification of a group of journalists who, at the invitation of immigrants, entered into a Welcome center so as to document the serious shortage of services. In Rome, during a conference at the Senate of the Republic, a senator insulted a journalist who asked him to confess his relationship with an MP arrested for ties to the Camorra. In Reggio Emilia, the editor of a local television station reported that he was attacked by two people on trial for mafia crimes.

On August 20, in a church in Rome there was a funeral held in a spectacular mafia style that sparked a scandal throughout the world. Ossigeno is still conducting investigations on other worrying acts of intimidation. In the following days, a RAI crew in Rome was surrounded and assaulted while shooting some footage of the homes of members of the clan. In Terzigno (province of Naples), a journalist was assaulted while shooting some footage of the heliport from where the helicopter that flew over the funeral departed, violating permits and safety rules.

The cavalry is coming!The Report of the Anti-mafia commission

This alarming picture was sweetened by good news. After a year of work, on 5 August 2015 the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission – organ of inquiry which includes MPs and Senators from all political groups – has concluded its investigation into the case of threatened journalists in Italy, adopting an eagerly awaited report (read: http://www.camera.it/_dati/leg17/lavori/documentiparlamentari/IndiceETesti/023/006/INTERO.pdf) “on the state of information in Italy and on the plight of journalists threatened by the mafia.” This 80-page text sends a strong warning to Parliament and the Government and is a milestone on the path towards full public awareness of the serious phenomenon of intimidation.

The report in fact acknowledges the merits and the social nature of the problem and its severity, stating that intimidation restricts freedom of information, admonishing that the need to deal with threats and abuse with urgent and concrete measures to protect journalists and to give assistance to victims, through legislative actions and incisive changes to the Criminal code. The report also explicitly recognizes the validity of the data and analysis produced by “Ossigeno per l’Informazione” and adopts some of its proposals, in particular on the need for a more active legal and criminal protection of press freedom.

All this gives hope for a change of pace in the strategy to protect Italian journalists from violence and abuse that show intolerance for the news reporting and for the freedom of information, a growing intolerance that since the start of 2015 has already recorded more than 230 new acts of intimidation.

“In the course of our investigation – the Anti-Mafia Commission Report reads- revealed a series of problems that show how press freedom may suffer, and often does suffer, numerous undue pressures (…) with the outcome of indirectly facilitating those criminal powers who have every interest in a less free press.” The investigation showed that the right to inform “not only is increasingly mortified but, in fact, does not enjoy any effective protection” and this makes the press the target or instrument of the mafia and other powers. Therefore the Commission asks to “expand the scope of criminal law protection in favor of press freedom” by establishing two new offenses: the first, to punish those who deliberately hinder information, and the second, to punish those who use the so-called “sully machine “, i.e. those who use the media to spread knowingly false information to harm someone in order to obtain an advantage.

The Anti-Mafia Commission calls on the government and parliament to urgently take some tough measures to put an end to the use of intimidating lawsuits. It asks to radically change the law on defamation (without de-criminalizing it) and to reduce the high number and the excessive length of criminal proceedings for defamation, putting a filter on their admissibility and recognizing the as having a priority on being dealt with. Similarly, to reduce the number and duration of cases of compensation, it prompts the creation from scratch of an arbitration body that may resolve disputes without delay.

Furthermore, the Anti-Mafia Commission addresses the problem of the many journalists blackmailed with unfounded accusations of defamation that must retract their news because they do not have the money to defend themselves in court. The Commission proposes that publishers pay the legal fees for the authors of articles published by them, whether they may be permanent employees or external collaborators (freelance). These, says the Anti-Mafia Commission, are the backbone supporting the entire information system and are also the weaker party, which receives lower pay, and enjoys fewer protections. The Commission asks the journalists’ union and the federation of publishers to resolve this problem within the national labor contract that regulates obligations and duties.

Unfortunately, the Anti-Mafia Comission says, there are also acts of intimidation that come from within newspapers and there are newspapers that represent mafia interests. Therefore, the Commission asks for a public register of publishing properties, kept up to date, where to gather, for each outlet, on top of the formal names of the holders of shares of ownership, those who have the real power to decide. All this, according to the Anti-Mafia Commission, is necessary so as to put an end to the “established” and continuous conditioning of press freedom that occurs in Italy, especially through threats and violence against journalists and instrumental defamation charges.

It is particularly significant that the opening lines to the report cite the figures provided by Ossigeno to the Anti-Mafia Commission in October 2014, stating that these are the reference data on acts of intimidation carried out in Italy from 2006 to 2014 “to the detriment of thousands of journalists “. And it is equally important that the report has been approved unanimously by the members of the Commission, a fact worth emphasizing, who are MPs representing all political groups.

The government too has made some progress

It is important to remember also other meaningful strides made recently in the same direction by the Italian Government. On July 2, in Rome, at the conference on “Protecting journalists, understanding uncomfortable truths”, promoted by Ossigeno together with its international partners, the project “European Center for Press and Media Freedom” (ECPMF) was presented.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Paolo Gentiloni, sent an inaugural message to the work of the promoters of the Conference, openly acknowledging that Italian journalists are not free to tell what happens. It is the first time that a government official gives a similar admission.

“I do not think – said the minister – that in Italy we can say that the information is not free, however I believe that many journalists are not free. Free to write the truth, free to inquire, free to exercise their profession at the best of their abilities. I’m thinking of acts of intimidation and threats against those who face daily issues like the mafia or organized crime. In the history of our country, unfortunately there is a long list of men and women who have paid the seeking of the truth with their lives.”

After the years of terrorism, of mafia killings, he added, “the weapons have become more subtle but dangerous nonetheless, moving in the shadows, thus no longer triggering the indignant reactions of the public opinion, rather isolating the voices of complaint.”

The International Conference of Rome on 2 July

The data produced by Ossigeno, the Senate president, Pietro Grasso, said in the opening speech of the conference on July 2, 2015, force us not only to reflect but also to act. There are too many threatened and yet we are unable to find appropriate solutions. “In Italy – he added – too often we underestimated the extent and spread of the phenomenon of acts of intimidation against media workers. On closer inspection, the numbers, the manner and the areas where these real ‘attacks on democracy’ occur are truly worrying.”

“To assess the health status of press freedom and take the necessary steps to improve it – the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, wrote in a message sent to the Director of Ossigeno, Alberto Spampinato, at the Rome Conference – are necessary reliable information such as yours. The establishment of a pan-European network of national observatories on violence against journalists would help to advance the debate on this matter.”

Important contributions to the discussion came from William Horsley (AEJ), Radomir Licina (SEEMO) and Ulrike Schmdt (OSCE), the FNSI and the Order of Journalists, the AGCOM (the Italian Communications Regulatory Authority), the Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEG) and others who attended the conference with their representatives and showed attention to the issues of the conference and the proposals advanced by Ossigeno.

The open admission of the seriousness of the problem of threats against Italian journalists, coming from a leading member of the government, is still the most important political fact emerged from the conference on 2 July. It is an absolute political novelty with respect to the attitude of previous governments, which had bypassed, ignored or even denied the problem.

Weak signals from the Italian Government

The new government’s attitude has emerged gradually. The first sign came from the head of government himself, Matteo Renzi, a few days after the start of his tenure.

“We should ensure closeness, support, to those people like you, who have made the word a tool of freedom and change: I think of the many journalists threatened, that are often precarious, and are too often left completely to their own devices” the new prime minister wrote on March 2, 2014 in a open letter addressed to Roberto Saviano (read: notiziario.ossigeno.info/2014/03/renzi-parla-dei-giornalisti-minacciati-e-una-svolta-commento-40883/).

Then the government has taken the first concrete commitments one year later, in Geneva. In March 2015, before the Council for Human Rights of the United Nations, the Italian government has accepted some recommendations on press freedom and protection of journalists that previous governments had refused. Among others, these three recommendations:
– promote and protect media pluralism, including in the legislation on the issue the principle of incompatibility of elected officers or of those who hold a government post with the ownership and control of the mass media;
– investigate and prosecute all perpetrators of crimes of violence and intimidation against journalists;
– take the necessary legal steps to protect journalists and investigate all acts of intimidation and violence against journalists.

Threats on social networks

Finally, it is worthy to note that on August 3, 2015, Alessandro Galimberti, president of the National Chroniclers Union (UNCI, affiliated to the FNSI) commented on the new death threats against the journalist Paolo Borrometi, made openly on social networks from a character linked to members of the local mafia, proposing a specific law provision that sanctions the use of the network for acts of intimidation. The MP Stefano Esposito (Democratic Party) has asked to investigate the matter.

August in numbers

Personal threats and explicit death threats through social networks, in person or through threat letters, public insults, physical attacks and spurious complaints are the problems that the Centre recorded in August 2015.

Cases verified and entered by Ossigeno in the Table 2015, and marked with numbers from 154 to 165. There have been eleven (11) cases involving twenty-three (23) journalists, who carry out their activities on the web, television and printed press. So far this year, the intimidation counter of Ossigeno reported 249 new acts of intimidation, of which 166 occurred in 2015 and 83 in previous years and so far unknown. Started in 2006, the meter has now reached 2394.
According to Ossigeno estimates, for every 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.

Links to articles by Ossigeno

Trend of intimidation and threats to journalists in Italy must be reversed, OSCE Representative says

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today urged the Italian authorities to offer better protection for members of the media, following recent attack against journalists covering activities of organized crime groups.

Giornalisti minacciati. Commissione Antimafia indica i nodi

Approvata all’unanimità la relazione del vice presidente Claudio Fava. I freelance e le querele. Guarda il VIDEO. “Saremo punto di riferimento”, assicura presidente Rosi Bindi.

Mafia e informazione. La Relazione approvata dall’Antimafia. Il testo integrale

Il documento è stato redatto dal vice presidente Claudio Fava. La Commissione Parlamentare lo ha approvato all’unanimità il 5 agosto 2015 dopo 12 mesi di inchiesta e 34 audizioni.

Modica. New Death Threats against Paolo Borrometi

Posted on Facebook by a member of a Mafia family from Vittoria (Ragusa province) as a reaction to his latest articles. The journalist has been under police protection for over a year.

Borrometi threatened. But has no real police protection

The “Corriere della Sera” writes so. How is it possible? PD MP Magorno asks Interior Minister Alfano.

Borrometi. Unci propone una legge per punire le minacce su Fb

Il parlamentare Pd Esposito ha chiesto di approfondire la questione. Prese di posizione dal gruppo misto del Senato e da parlamentari M5S.

Shooting gallery against politicians, La7 journalist attacked 

In Tarquinia, Sara Giudice, reporter for the show “In Onda”, had her microphone snatched during a live feed. “They threatened me, I denounce them”.

Capital Mafia: the whistle-blower and the bus driver suspended 

Some Italian municipalities encourage civil servants to report wastes and lawlessness, creating special reserved channels.

Mafia Capitale. Roma. Perché un funerale-show fa tanto discutere

Non c’era soltanto folclore nelle esequie di un capo clan i cui esponenti saranno giudicati per mafia a Roma il s novembre in un processo senza precedenti.

Genoa. At the stadium a banner against football commentator

“Freccero beware,” on August 12, 2015 the threatening markings said when exposed by fans of Sampdoria. The journalists’ union has protested: like this you spoil the sport.

Leak. Judiciary renounces frisking Reporters

For the editors of the newspaper “Il Fatto”, Marco Lillo and Vincenzo Iurillo, the prosecutors of Naples have opted for a decree of presentation of the files they are looking for.

Venice. Large ships. Adriano Celentano sued by the Tar

The singer had defined “miserable” the decision to suspend the limits to navigation in the Giudecca Canal. The comment by Ossigeno.

Milan. Identified journalists who intervened at migrants centre

Some guests of the Welcome center in Bresso had called them to document the difficult conditions in which they hold the status of refugee.

Senator insults Journalist during Press Conference

“You are dishonest. A little communist, even a bit of an asshole”, Vincenzo D’Anna replied to the journalist Alessandro De Angelis of the Huffington Post.

Reggio Emilia. Mafia threats to the editor of the Telereggio news service

The date goes back to 2012. Two men suspected and arrested for the investigation of the DDA of Bologna “Aemilia” and accused of being area chiefs of the ‘ndragheta clan Great Aracri.

Rome. Rai troupe surrounded and attacked during outdoors filming

They were shooting some video footage of a group of houses considered to be illegal and inhabited by members of the clan Casamonica, in the storm after the mafia style funeral.

Terzigno (Naples). Reporter attacked at heliport used for Casamonica funeral

“I’ll kill you”, one of the attackers shouted to Alessio Viscardi, video reporter of the web news site Fanpage.it, and the M5S activist who accompanied him.

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