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Protect threatened journalists. How the Italian parliament takes its first steps

What changed with the votes of the Chamber of Deputies on the Report of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission and the proposal to discourage frivolous lawsuitIn 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.

This is as excerpt from march 2016 report of Ossigeno per l’Informazione for the European Center for Press and Media Freedom of Leipzig (ECPMF), with the support of the European Union. Read the full report

MF – ASP

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