In ten years ossigeno has come a long way. Now it faces a few problems
The Observatory is more visible and incisive. But there is a gap between the high number of threats to follow and the few and uncertain resources available
2016 also began uphill for Ossigeno per l’Informazione. In the first three weeks of the year the Observatory has documented 27 threats, more than one a day. Other cases – some serious, sensational, difficult – are waiting to be dealt with as they deserve. We will treat them all, we hope, by employing our resources, which are modest, limited, in many ways inadequate. Unfortunately, there is a large gap between the amount of cases to be treated, and the available resources. It is nothing new. But this gap is growing and we do not know how to fill it up.
It seems only right to say it to those that more and more are turning to us to get visibility, solidarity, protection: it is not our attention that is lacking. I feel it is useful to say also for those who have ideas, suggestions and practical help to offer. The Observatory needs them more than ever. This year is crucial for our project, for the work we do.
In 2015 Ossigeno has documented and accounted for 521 threats, acts of intimidation, serious offenses, attacks against Italian journalists and bloggers because of their news and investigative work, because of the assessments they make and the opinions they express. These 521 episodes and the first 27 of 2016 have led to 2700 the number of victims listed in the past ten years.
Ossigeno has produced this impressive documentation in order to prove to the skeptics something that at this point should be peacefully accepted by all: in Italy who publishes information of public interest unwelcome to the powerful and the arrogant faces serious risks. In fact, many are still struggling to believe it, to accept it, to draw the consequences of it, despite the evidence of the facts, despite the figures have been ascertained, verified and deepened by the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission in the course of the last two legislatures.
The Ossigeno data are clear. But even today many do not want to draw the consequences. Yet even in 2015 the government, for the first time, publicly acknowledged that this problem exists: it did so officially with its representatives to the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations who have committed themselves to solve it; on July 2, 2015 it was reierated through the words of the Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, at the Ossigeno conference on the protection of journalists.
Therefore, we can not say that the activity Ossigeno has been carrying forward has been useless. Indeed, it has been crucial to get to this point. It has given visibility to the phenomenon. It prevented to deny its nature and size, as happened before. It has opened the eyes of media workers who could not see what was happening, as it still happens to many of them. It made possible to understand to the most open minds that in Italy freedom of the press is much less clear than commonly thought. It is hard to believe, we know, but these are the facts.
The monitoring of acts of intimidation and abuse, the verification of the nature and merits of each episode, the reconstruction required to make these facts clear and indisputable to the public, have produced statistical data which no one possessed. But the research and the analysis of the data did not just produce numbers. Carrying out this activity, Ossigeno has studied the phenomenon and described it in an objective way. Interviewing victims, Ossigeno has learned in what and in how many different ways it is possible to intimidate journalists and muzzle them without even breaking the law, without incurring penalties and punishments, in what ways it is possible to wield as clubs the anachronistic rules on defamation to prevent the exercise of the right of expression and the press recognized by the Constitution, so, silently, in a democratic Republic, which has banned the classic censorship 68 years ago, it requires that “masked censorship” that we described in December, in Rome, in a two-day seminar attended by over 600 journalists.
In these ten years, with a continuous, daily work, Ossigeno has analyzed these and other aspects of the issue, many of them little known. As such the phenomenon has taken more and more defined contours. The term “spurious lawsuit” has become commonplace. The dossier and the reports produced by Ossigeno have linked the problems to their causes. The Centre has proposed interventions, concrete solutions that would help journalists in difficulty, would solve many of the current problems, melt nodes that are obvious to us.
In particular, this work has enabled us to understand two things: the first, in Italy innovative interventions are needed both in the legislative field and as regards the organization of journalistic work and their vocational training; the second, many of these problems are present in a similar manner in other European countries which speak even less about it than in Italy.
This was and is the work of Ossigeno. A thankless job, against the current, which has clashed with the ignorance of the facts, with the general disbelief, with the silence of newspapers, radios and television news programs, the specialized programs that still wrap and hide the threats against journalists and attacks to a free information. This work clashes with the clichés, resignation, fatalism, the false belief that talking about these things would be useless, would complicate the lives of journalists or, even worse, would aggravate the situation. It collides with the misconception, hard to die, that such serious violations of press freedom occur only in distant countries and much different from ours, in non-democratic, authoritarian countries ruled by dictators and orcs that make us horror. It collides with the understandable reluctance of the victims themselves, many of which, in this climate, do not want to talk about their troubles for fear of further damage and suffering.
This is the work that Ossigeno carries on with few resources and little funding.
Then, why does it do it? Why do I do it? Why do my brave collaborators do it? The ideals are the main motivations and I renounce to list them for obvious reasons. It would be rhetorical and useless. I will only say that to encourage us to go on is the satisfaction of seeing the results, to note that thanks to our commitment to a cause of great social value is gaining ground and winning more and more supporters and allies.
There’s also the satisfaction of seeing that the wall of silence and indifference begins to crumble under the impact of our weak forces, of the irreconcilable contradictions that we can highlight. There is pride to count among our supporters, whom we thank, the President of the Republic and its predecessor, the Presidents of the Chambers of Parliament, the leaders of the Order of Journalists and FNSI (organizations that support us) and some Provincial associations (primarily that of Lazio and that of Lombardy), great journalists like Sergio Zavoli, authors of journalistic investigations that changed the perception of reality, and as such are forced to live under police protection, withstand isolation, denigration, threats, procedures unworthy of a civilized country, ordinary citizens who help us, organizations that recognize and appreciate the civil commitment that animates us, the European Commission, the OSCE, the High Commissioner for Human rights of the Council of Europe, and other international institutions that have regard and attention to what we do.
Fortunately, there is all this. And there’s also our stubborn persistence to carry on and the personal enthusiasm that motivates the professional volunteering of some of us. Its a great adventure and a good investment of one’s time. Its a great capital. But it is not enough. Realism compels us to reflect, to ask if after ten years the Ossigeno project can go ahead and keep commitments, with uncertain practical resources at its disposal. After ten years, can this work still depend on a bet to be renewed month after month? 2016 is a crucial year for answering this question.