ECPMF / english / report

Italy. March 2016. The most dangerous news by Ossigeno

This monthly review of acts of intimidation in Italy is produced by Ossigeno per l’Informazione for the European Center for Press and Media Freedom of Leipzig (ECPMF), with the support of the European Union

In March 2016 in Italy numerous incidents of threats and acts of intimidation against media workers occurred. Fifteen have been documented by Ossigeno. But there have also been two important innovations that make hope for a greater commitment by the authorities to ensure a more adequate protection for Italian journalists who are being threatened and abused by those who want to obstruct their work.

The first comes from the Chamber of Deputies, which on March 3rd approved with a unanimous vote the report presented by the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission at the end of an unprecedented parliamentary inquiry “on the state of information and on the condition of journalists threatened by the mafias”. Also the second good news comes from the Chamber of Deputies, which a few days later approved a norm long overdue that – when it will enter into force – will discourage the instrumental judicial initiatives of those seeking monetary compensations by accusing journalists of defamation without founded reason as a pretext. This abuse of the law is common but it is very rarely punished and, therefore, has long been one of the most practiced intimidation instruments in Italy to block the publication of unwelcome news.

It will take time for these changes to take effect. The fact remains that these parliamentary votes are two milestones. They report that the wall of public defaults is crumbling and that the solitary work that Ossigeno per l’Informazione carried on for ten years to be demonstrate the limitations to the freedom of information in Italy that are serious and unsustainable has not been useless, thus bringing the public’s attention on a phenomenon that the media continue largely to avoid. Slowly, silently, the objective data and the analyses produced by Ossigeno have triggered a positive political process that is the premise to address and resolve the problem. Just a few weeks ago, the breakthrough appeared unlikely, and even today many still have not understood the scope. Certainly further uncertainties and political hesitations will be inevitable, it will take patience and persistence, but when the right way is taken and a political process started, sooner or later concrete results will arrive.

The biggest obstacle was precisely the denial of the problem, by its severe underestimation. “These things do not happen in Italy,” they told us. Much of the energy Ossigeno spent went just to overcome this objection, false, groundless, but very solid. If we think of all this, then we can understand how these steps by Parliament and the Government, in addition to others taken last year, more shy but just as significant, are so important. With this vote, Parliament – and the Government that has expressed a favorable opinion – finally admitted in the most formal and solemn manner that the issue raised by Ossigeno exists and needs to be addressed with urgent legislative changes, to defend the right of journalists to do their work without losing life or the heritage and, at the same time, to defend the right of citizens to receive information.

That these interventions are necessary and urgent it is clearly stated in the Antimafia Report, and with its vote, the Chamber of Deputies agreed with this assessment. The urgency, moreover, is demonstrated daily by the press produced by Ossigeno, which continues to propose dramatic episodes of threats and abuses against journalists.

Some of these events are extremely serious, demonstrating the widespread intolerance of free and independent information. Sometimes they also show that the spirit of revenge, the desire to inflict exemplary punishment to unwelcome journalists seems to prevail even on the law that, as everyone knows, recommends to understand the particular difficulties of the journalistic work and the fair punishments for those who make mistakes, such as not to prevent the continuation of the journalistic activity. Ossigeno shares these recommendations and therefore noted as a serious judicial decision to sell a historical newspaper at an auction because it was convicted of libel and to pay a huge compensation. It happened on February 9, 2016, when the Court of Naples, in order to find the money to compensate the plaintiff, decided to proceed within 90 days to the auction of La Voce delle Voci, a magazine that for over thirty years has published important inquiries on crime and corruption. Ossigeno had already reported the abnormal fact that the conviction for defamation had caused the suspension of publications and the seizure of the personal resources of the editors.

A phenomenon which in March was repeated several times concerns the intimidation and discrimination against sportswriters. Many journalists covering the news in this area are considered sports clubs’ propagandists. Some major companies believe that journalists in the industry should give information uncritically while they discriminate or punish (sometimes with the help of hooligans) those who instead of making propaganda articles, tells the facts critically, as is the duty of a journalist. The reactions of the sports authorities so far have not been the ones necessary to discourage such episodes.

The vote of Parliament and Ossigeno’s contribution

Ossigeno proudly claims credit for having contributed significantly to raise the attention of the institutions and to reach the political result obtained with the consensus of the Chamber of Deputies on the Report of the Anti-Mafia Commission on threatened journalists. Indeed, the data on the phenomenon produced by Ossigeno gave the cue to the inquiry carried out by the Parliamentary Commission, which also made use of an ad hoc search for Ossigeno on the threats and acts of intimidation of those involved. The agreed proposals suggest to criminally protect the exercise of freedom of the press and of expression, to curb the instrumental and intimidating use of libel suits and actions for damages against newspapers and journalists, to regulate the financial liability of publishers towards their employees on trial for libel, to overcome the serious wage and contractual insecurity prevailing in the majority of Italian journalists.

“This, in fifty years – commented the MP Claudio Fava, who led the parliamentary Anti-mafia investigation – is the first report that captures the signs of the relationship between the Mafia and information.” Now, he added, what is needed is to promote a solidarity which comes to be “active, concrete, manifest, material, to the many, the too many journalists who risk their skin. All of us should tell what they have told, what they were threatened for”.

Reform of the civil trial

In the future it may be costly to apply to a judge without a compelling reason to claim damages. An enabling act provides so in reforming the civil trial, approved by the House and now awaiting the Senate’s vote. When it will be approved it will be riskier than now to take advantage of justice to embarrass anyone (not just journalists) through claims for damages based on unfounded or reckless grounds and assumptions. According to the reform, whenever bad faith in the action of the promoter of the trial will be noted, the court may sentence it to pay to the other party a sum that will be determined “between twice and five times the legal expenses paid.” Those acting in “bad faith or gross negligence” is furthermore likely to pay a financial penalty in favor of the Fines Fund (a public body which finances the rehabilitation and assistance to detainees and their families), by an increasing value in the different degrees of judgment. The rules already exist but are rarely applied.

The cases of threat

Sports – On March 9th, in front of a sports field in Palermo, two fans of a football team attacked Michele Sardo, a freelance reporter: they took the mobile phone with which he was shooting video footage, they shoved him, and hit him in face, and then they chanted: “Journalists pieces of shit”.

On February 26th, a supporter of the football team of Piacenza (which participates in the non-professional league), forced a collaborator of the newspaper Libertà to leave the hall in which a press conference was being held in the stadium of the Emilian city. The reporter resisted, but when the hooligan took off his gloves and struck a fist on the table, he deemed it wise to leave. The club has condemned the incident through a written note.

Sebastiano Vernazza, journalist of La Gazzetta dello Sport, the main national sports daily, was the target of chants, slogans and offensive writings (“Vernazza brain orphan”) displayed on a banner. It happened on March 5th in Milan, in front of the headquarters of the newspaper. The authors are about fifty fans of Atalanta, the football team of Bergamo, angered by an article criticizing the behavior of some parents who had brought their children to a march of solidarity for a hooligan chief who, because of his violent conduct, is being monitored by the police.

Three journalists of the ADNKronos, Askanews and Agi Sicily news agencies were excluded on March 18th from a meeting with the press, which took place in a hotel in Palermo, with the former prime minister and owner of AC Milan football club, Silvio Berlusconi. The organizers explained that the access was restricted to the TV news reporters, defined by Berlusconi’s staff as “welcome guests”.

Other attacks

Messina – In the Town Hall square of Messina, in Sicily, on March 5th Giuseppe Bevacqua and Alessandro Silipigni, video reporters for the local broadcaster Tirreno Sat, were shooting video footage for the production of a news report on social unrest. They were assaulted, abused and threatened by a young man who has damaged their equipment. Three days later Bevacqua found the inscription “journalist bastards” on the wall in front of his home. A week later, a leaflet signed “Anonymous rebels” was posted near the City’s town hall. Two copies of a second flyer, signed “floating mines in need of re-education”, which discredits the work of the journalists, were instead found at a tram stop near Bevacqua’s house.

Massa Carrara – On March 19th, Andrea Agresti, reporter for the known TV show Le Iene, was hit in the face by a woman who the journalist was trying to interview as part of a report on fake residence permits.

Naples – Insults – On March 12th, some supporters of the candidate for mayor Antonio Bassolino (former mayor of the city, Minister of the Republic and President of the Campania Region) have attacked and insulted journalists, photographers and cameramen. The cause appears to have been the presence in an event promoted by the politician of some former FIAT factory workers dressed as Pulcinella (theatrical figure of the Commedia dell’Arte, whose characteristic is to satirize and make fun of the powerful).

Sardinia – Andrea Scano, a journalist of L’Unione Sarda, on February 24th received on his personal phone number three defamatory and threatening messages sent by a union representative of the metallurgical company Eurallumina of Carbonia, on which the reporter wrote a piece the day before, referring of the concerns of some environmental groups for the results of a research on pollution in the city. In the days after the incident had been clarified with the excuses of the trade unionist, while the journalist declined to report the incident to the judiciary.

Lawsuits

Antonio Borriello, town councilor in Naples, has instructed his lawyers to sue for defamation the online newspaper FanPage. The newspaper had published on its website a video showing the same Borriello deliver of coins to people in the process of voting at polling stations organized by the Democratic Party to choose the candidate mayor. According to the reconstruction of the three journalists of the outlet (Antonio Musella, Peppe Pace, Alessio Viscardi), in exchange for the euros, the counselor would have asked to express a preference for a particular candidate. Musella and Pace were also the protagonists of another episode. On March 16th, while documenting a protest against the relocation of a factory, they were verbally assaulted and beaten by some workers of a foundry in Fratta (in the province of Salerno), who also attacked the protesters and tried to destroy the equipment of the two reporters.

The INPS (National Institute for Social Security) announced that it will file a lawsuit against the newspaper Libero for some articles by the journalist Giacomo Amadori, who between 2015 and 2016 told of a case that is as yet under investigation by the judiciary relative to social security contributions not paid by the public electricity company Enel for about fifteen thousand workers.

Other News

The Court of Milan has decided that Filippo Roma, reporter for the TV show Le Iene, will have to compensate with 52 thousand euro a journalist, the chief editors of the periodicals Nuovo and Diva e Donna, and the publisher Cairo, for having produced some reports which questioned the veracity of interviews to celebrities published by the two outlets.

Gianlugi Nuzzi, known journalist (among other things accused by the Vatican – along with Emiliano Fittipaldi – in a trial for the dissemination of confidential news and documents) and Maurizio Belpietro, chief editor of the newspaper Libero, were sentenced to 10 months in prison for the crime of slander. According to the court, in their articles they have accused, despite knowing that he was innocent, a manager of the supermarket chain Coop Lombardia of spying on employees with hidden cameras and eavesdropping. For Nuzzi the sentence was suspended, while Belpietro’s was converted to “probation”.

The Court of Rome has rejected the lawsuit by the Mediaset Group against the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano for an article of 2012, condemning the communications company to pay seven thousand euro for legal costs incurred by the newspaper, by the chief editor Antonio Padellaro and by Carlo Tecce, author of the article.

After four trials, the Appeals Court acquitted Pino Belleri, former chief editor of the weekly Oggi, sentenced in the first degree to five months’ imprisonment (suspended sentence) and 10 thousand euro compensation for having received stolen goods, as a result of fifteen photos depicting the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the company of a group of girls, guests at his private residence at Villa Certosa in Sardinia.

March in numbers

In March 2016, Ossigeno per l’Informazione has reported 15 incidents of threats and acts of intimidation against media workers. The counter, which records in the Table of the victims of intimidation and abuse all the cases confirmed since 2006, has so reached 2792. From January 1, 2016 119 names have been added to the Table.

The types of intimidation include: assault, threat letters, offensive writings and banners, libel suits deemed spurious.

According to estimates by Ossigeno, for every known and documented case of intimidation at least ten others remain unknown even to the Observatory, because the victims do not have the strength to make them public.

Link to cases of threat and intimidation

PIACENZA. FAN FORCES REPORTER TO LEAVE PRESS ROOM

It happened to a collaborator of the daily Libertà. Solidarity for the incident was expressed by the Union of Journalists of Emilia and the editorial board

CARBONIA. THREATENING MESSAGES TO A REPORTER OF “UNIONE SARDA”

They have apparently been sent by a trade unionist to Andrea Scano who reported the concerns of environmentalists for the opening of a coal plant. Solidarity from Order of Journalists and Assostampa

MESSINA. VIDEO OPERATORS ASSAULTED, INSULTED AND THREATENED

It happened on Saturday, March 5, 2016 in the Town Hall square. Giuseppe Bevacqua and Alessandro Silipigni were filming a service for Tirreno Sat

PRIMARIES IN NAPLES. THE COUNCILOR WHO WAS FILMED ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT AGAINST FANPAGE

Antonio Borriello considers an attack the video released on March 7, 2016 which shows him giving money to people who are going to vote

FOOTBALL. ATALANTA HOOLIGANS GO AGAINST JOURNALIST OF “GAZZETTA DELLO SPORT”

Fifty fans arrived in Milan from Bergamo offended Sebastiano Vernazza and launched smoke bombs to protest. Solidarity from editorial board, USSI and ALG

CONTRIBUTIONS NOT PAID. “LIBERO” FILES COMPLAINT, INPS ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT

The pension fund considers defamatory some articles by the journalist Giacomo Amadori on missed payments by ENEL for early lay offs

NAPLES. JOURNALISTS ATTACKED AND INSULTED BY BASSOLINO SUPPORTERS

Also involved some photographers and cameramen. The episode on the sidelines of a meeting with the politician at the Augusteum. Intervention of the Campania Union

PALERMO. REPORTER ATTACKED, PUSHED AND SLAPPED BY 2 FANS

They attempted to steal his videophone off him and attacked him before the gates of the stadium. Chants of insults from the hooligans of the other side. Harsh sentence from the Order of Journalists of Sicily

SALERNO. WORKERS ATTACK JOURNALISTS AND PROTESTERS

Antonio Musella and Peppe Pace (FanPage) were documenting the protest to demand the relocation of the Pisano Foundries. Solidarity from ODG and SUGC

MESSINA. POSTED OFFENSIVE FLYERS AGAINST JOURNALISTS ALL OVER THE CITY

They were found on 12 and 13 March 2016. In one there is a reference to the aggression against Bevacqua and Silipigni. Condemnation from the Order of Journalists of Sicily. The Prefect intervened

PALERMO. REPORTERS EXCLUDED FROM BERLUSCONI MEETING WITH THE PRESS

They are journalists of Adnkronos, Askanews and Agi Sicilia. Unci and the regional Assostampa intervened. Zingales: “Some politicians draw up popularity rankings”

MASSA CARRARA. REPORTER OF TV SHOW LE IENE ATTACKED IN CITY CENTRE BY A WOMAN

Andrea Agresti was hit in the face while trying to shoot a video report on fake residence permits. Solidarity by the mayor of the city

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