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Capital Mafia. Hands Off from Lirio Abbate and 96 reporters

Because on the eve of the maxi-trial in Rome, attacks on journalists that have informed readers about a scandal without precedent have multipliedA few weeks away from the start of the trial in Rome known as “Capital Mafia”, which will start on November 5, some positions have revealed the intolerance for the role of the press and of the reporters who, in the different stages of the investigation, have duly and extensively informed the public on the prosecution stance and the charges pressed against the individual defendants. In particular, it is shocking the attack by a group of criminal lawyers to dozens of court reporters and the attempt by some of them to isolate the journalist Lirio Abbate by denigrating him sarcastically.

The freedom to express opinions, dialectics and pluralism are out of the question, as well as the fact that opinions can be refuted and that it is up to the judges of the Court to verify the actual guilt of each of the defendants. It’s obvious. But it is even more clear that it was and is a duty for newspapers and for any journalist to inform citizens as clearly and as extensively as possible, especially in the face of the explosion of a scandal of such vast proportions. The discovery of an organized criminal mafia in Rome is unprecedented and it is understandable that it has shaken convictions rooted in public opinion, above all the conviction that Rome was immune from the active presence of criminal organizations like the mafia. It was therefore useful, necessary, and obligatory to have a wide media coverage on the issue.

The Criminal Chamber of Rome has made known in these days that it does not think so. Through a denunciation-complaint to the Public Prosecutor, the association representing the category to which criminal lawyers in the Capital adhere voluntarily, has accused 97 journalists of violating the ban on publication of judicial documents as per article 114 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the ethical norms of their profession. They would have done so during the two waves of arrests, the first in December 2014 and the second in June 2015, publishing 278 articles on 14 newspapers, reporting content and textual parts of arrest warrants in jail. There is no memory of such a wide collective dispute for this offense.

A brave reporter with long experience that has at other times witnessed these conflicts between lawyers and chroniclers, my friend Attilio Bolzoni, sees the initiative of the Criminal Chamber a sort of conditioned reflex. Even in Palermo, he recalls, on the eve of the maxi-trial against Cosa Nostra in 1987, the criminal lawyers addressed similar accusations to reporters. But there was no formal initiative nor anything so sensational. “This time I do not understand what the goal is. Maybe they want the maxi-trial to be done against reporters rather than the mafia?” he says with bitter irony.

“O tempora o mores!”, Nostro would say. Back when the Criminal Chamber, for two terms, was chaired with great prestige by the lawyer Oreste Flamminii Minuto, such a reaction would have been unthinkable. The great lawyer taught that the journalist who is in possession of the acts covered by secrecy has a duty to publish them if they contain relevant information of public interest, because he acts in the interests of citizens.

Reporters who observe the ethics follow this preaching, which is not an incitement to commit a crime, but to apply the spirit of other more open norms, such as art. 326 of the Criminal Code which punishes with great severity the public official or the person responsible for a public service that reveals confidential information (by the way, shouldn’t it be them the target of the Criminal Chamber?), but only on condition that he does so “violating the duties inherent to the functions or the service, or otherwise abusing his quality.”

In this spirit, since always and often, court reporters and the responsible editors violate article 114 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. They do it so as to profess their professional duty. They do it in the name of article 51 of Criminal Code, which excludes the punishment of those who act in the exercise of a duty imposed by a rule of law (the law establishing the Order of Journalists) or in the fulfillment of a right, in this case that provided by article 21 of the Constitution. They do so accepting the risk of being punished, in pursuant to article 684 of the Criminal Code, with a fine ranging from 50 to 251 Euros.

Alternatively, the law provides for imprisonment of up to 30 days. But none of the criminal lawyers I consulted noted that the arrest was ever inflicted. There is an established practice that in these cases journalists pay the oblation like an improper tax on the publication of news. It’s not fair, it’s not linear. But it will be so as long as a far-sighted and enlightened legislator (we’ve been waiting for one for quite some time) will not add to the codes an explicit rule that fully recognizes the civil service of information in the public interest that is produced and disseminated in the interest of citizens. The legislator we dream of will offer due criminal protection to the rights of expression and the press, as has recently asked the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission. These rules are needed to fill a gap in the legislation that allows these and other instrumental allegations and impose a winding judicial path to the journalist accused of violating reputation and secrets.

Far more serious and worrying is the attempt by some to downplay the significance of the trial of Capital Mafia by isolating from his colleagues the journalist Lirio Abbate, who was the first, three years before the court investigation, to write in a newspaper of the criminal interactions of a political and business nature going on in Rome. For his fieldwork, conducted exclusively, and for which he has been repeatedly threatened and a year ago he suffered an armed assault, Liro Abbate, who lives under police protection since 2007 due to repeated death threats, does not deserve the sarcasm and denigration by some of the lawyers of the defendants in the inquiry Capital Mafia. He would actually deserve another journalism prize, to add to the already-rich medal collection.

The work of Lirio Abbate is the answer to those who occasionally, and for sport, say that unfortunately in Italy nobody does investigative reporting as it used to be, that journalism that does not obtain information from court papers but searches the news from the streets, consuming shoe soles. This statement is coupled with the claim that there are no more half seasons. The story of Lirio Abbate and other thirty or perhaps fifty journalists who like him live under police protection because of threats received for their work, stand to show that somebody actually still does those investigations, but to do investigative reporting has become very, very dangerous in this country where many accept superficial information collected randomly. There are still – fortunately for us – those, like Lirio Abbate, who do not limit themselves to look at things from a distance, to gather information from press releases or domesticated announcements, but goes in search of information braving the dangers that this entails, also when it means putting their lives at stake.

The attempt to make believe that the better journalist is he who does not do investigations is clearly instrumental. This statement angers me as the praise of the sentinel that leaves to someone else the task of watching the dark and raise the alarm.

We have already seen similar operations in the Bologna trial. An accused of Mafia has blatantly tried to convince the judges that they should not have prosecuted him, accused of serious crimes, but the journalist Giovanni Tizian that with his articles had put him in trouble uncovering the plot and highlighting the business for which he is accused of mafia. Scandals can be avoided through silence and judicial inaction. It is an old recipe that makes evil fester. In Italy this recipe has been applied many, too many, times, even recently, and has produced the Italy of unsolved mysteries, of the unpunished massacres, of the collusions tolerated under the sun, of the corruption that swallows the money with which the country could be rich and generous with the weak. To put an end to such a season we have to defend those who, like Lirio Abbate and hundreds of journalists that every year like him are threatened or intimidated for the same reason, wants to exercise the constitutional right to inform we the people, and pretends to inform us while events are taking place, not only after the judges have assessed them.


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