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Cipriani case . How a journalist ends up in jail for defamation

Many rumors, but parliament never abolished the sentence of imprisonment nor has it addressed the event of publisher that disappears and leaves the journalists in trouble

Eight months ago the case of the journalist Antonio Cipriani, who was in danger of ending up in jail for an enforceable sentence for libel, caused a sensation, but even though the episode was shocking, it kept a low profile on the newspapers. The same has happened now, when the fact that Cipriani had indeed spent 22 days in the custody of social services (a measure alternative to detention in prison and house arrest) has been made known. And he would have had to spend another four months if it were not for the acquittal of a journalist and co-defendant.

The chief editor of a newspaper who ends up under arrest should command more attention. Moreover, this is one of those stories that, on top of rattling every newspaper editor, usually fire up journalists and newspaper readers. It reminds us of the misadventures of the protagonist of the novel by Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities: a successful lawyer who finds himself accused of a crime and loses status and assets in a court case from the Kafkaesque atmosphere.

Cipriani is a well-known and hugely successful journalist that drives a publishing chain. His role is that of the legal scapegoat. At one point he remains orphaned of the publisher and to face the charges pending he spends his entire fortune to the point of not having any more money to defend himself against a sentence of five months in prison for failure to control and for complicity in defamation.

This can happen in Italy. The Cipriani case tells us that in Italy the personal liabilities and assets of the publisher can vanish into thin air, while the journalist still faces the risk of ending up in prison for a conviction for defamation, despite all the talk that has come from Parliament since 2012 around the bill to abolish the prison sentence and replace it with a fine, because the anticipation by itself of a custodial sentence for these crimes is enough to have a chilling effect on the work of all journalists: it causes them not to publish sensitive and controversial news, even those that have public interest and are often the most important. It is time to solve the prison problem and even the dissolution of the publisher with transfer of legal liability for damages on individual journalists, a problem that had already emerged in 2014 in the case of the daily L’Unità and other newspapers. Italy is a state of law and the world is watching us.

Ossigeno has already delved deeper into the Cipriani story (read more), considering it an emblematic case, the product of a press law in need of being reformed radically.

As the chief editor of fifteen free press dailies of the E-Polis Group, the journalist Antonio Cipriani underwent 34 trials for failed due diligence, in compliance with Article 57 of the Criminal Code. E-Polis has suspended publications in 2011 and declared bankruptcy.

The trials have continued their course, slowly and inexorably, and Cipriani continued to be indicted with the obligation to bear the costs to defend himself. These expenses were covered by the publisher, until it ceased operations. From then on, all legal fees burdened on Cipriani’s personal income, among other things greatly reduced for the termination of his contract as chief editor.

The journalist was even sued for a phrase, deemed offensive, for a letter by a citizen published on the E-Polis edition of Bergamo in the appopriate section. Cipriani has faced the expenses for defending himself in all trials, paying from their own pockets every compensation. Until he has run out of personal resources. A depressing situation, and meanwhile the burden of the trials continued to weigh him down.

He was in this situation on July 2, 2014, when the Criminal Court of Oristano sentenced him to five months and ten days in prison for libel in the first degree, charging him of abetting criminal defamation and failure to control an article published on February 14, 2007 on Il Giornale di Sardegna, one of the newspapers of the E-Polis group, for which the author of the article, the journalist Enrico Fresu, co-defendant, was simultaneously sentenced to eight months in prison.

In the article, a person was being associated to a subversive-terrorist organization. That person had sued the newspaper for libel and had seen his theses accepted from the Oristano judge, Riccardo Ariu.

To appeal against the conviction, Cipriani would have had to incur in other expenses, but he is now broke. There was a deadline for filing the appeal. Cipriani allowed it to expire without presenting any appeal. So it was inevitable that sooner or later he would have been notified of the order of execution of the sentence. The execution order of imprisonment came on March 11, 2015. Then the supervising judge examined the case and proposed social services as an alternative to detention in prison or house arrest.

Luckily for him, the author of the article, Fresu, had appealed. In the trial he was acquitted and the effects of the judgment have been extended to Cipriani, who, meanwhile, had begun serving his sentence in Milan through social services and heavy obligations, restrictive of his freedom of movement: for example, he could not leave the house from 22 pm until 7 in the morning, and could not take any trip.


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