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In Italy, investigative journalism is under attack also from the courts

The attacks on professional secrecy and on investigative journalism in Mafia trials stand out

In January 2016 Ossigeno per l’Informazione reported in detail dozens of episodes that have targeted 49 journalists and bloggers.

The most spectacular attack was carried out within the courtrooms of Rome during the trials to persons accused of mafia association against the journalist Liro Abbate, editor and star reporter of the weekly L’Espresso. The lawyer Bruno Naso, counsel for one of the principal defendants, Massimo Carminati, has repeatedly offended and insulted the journalist, mocking him, and deliberately twisting his name to ridicule and belittle the credibility of his articles, which revealed the existence of the criminal organization and have turned the public’s attention on the issue way before the judiciary intervened. The solicitor’s behavior was deemed intimidating and therefore “unacceptable” in a joint document signed by Ossigeno, by the unitary union of journalists, the FNSI, and by the National Order of Journalists. The document, which has had extensive media coverage, calls for respect and protection for Lirio Abbate (who has already suffered repeated death threats since 2007 and is protected by armed agents of the state police). The three organizations have addressed a public appeal to the highest authorities so that the courtrooms not be transformed into places where to instrumentally hit journalists who are not to blame, but credited instead for having done their job.

PROFESSIONAL CONFIDENTIALITY – Equally disturbing for those who do investigative journalism are two severe attacks on professional confidentiality of journalist sources: two unprecedented legal actions questioning the effectiveness of laws that affirm the right of journalists not to reveal the identity of the trusted sources. The judiciary has circumvented this fundamental guarantee by asking the publisher directly for any material thus obtaining the information. These initiatives have raised a wave of criticism against the magistrates. Ossigeno share these criticisms. But also notes that the behavior of the publishers was also wrong, because the Italian law and the entire European jurisprudence say that the publisher, like the journalists, is bound to observe the confidentiality of fiduciary sources for published information. What has happened is of deep concern because one of the publishers who violated the professional secrecy clause is RAI, the public broadcaster. The other broadcaster involved, La7, operates via television, with a generalist network. The episodes were only two and did not receive the media and political attention they deserve.

The prosecutor of Rome ordered the seizure of the original footage of interviews with police officers who said, in front of cameras, that weapons and anti-terrorism protection systems supplied to the Italian police were seriously inadequate. In the broadcasted videos, the networks had protected the anonymity of the police officers by disguising their face and electronically imitating their voices. In the films seized, however, it is possible to see their face and to listen to their true voice clearly.The measures concern the journalist Antonino Monteleone for the television news program Piazzapulita (aired on the La7 national network), and the news service on the same subject produced by another journalist, Alessio Lasta, for the television show Ballarò, broadcast on RAI (the public broadcasting company).

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