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Italy. Ossigeno’s most dangerous news. June 2016

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 June 2016, Ossigeno per l’Informazione reported threats and acts of intimidation against 34 journalists, bloggers and other information professionals (21 men and 12 women) that occurred in Italy. The Observatory has documented episodes, made them public and added the names of the threated to its Table of victims of serious violations of press freedom and freedom of expression. The table, available online, (see) contains 2894 names, 221 of which were added during the first 180 days of 2016. Unfortunately, many other threats can not be known by the Observatory, because the victims do not have the strength to make them public. According to estimates by Ossigeno, for each known and documented case, there are at least ten more unaccounted for.

The names

The 34 reporters affected in June were: Antonio Crispino; Tranquillino Cavallo, Claudio Scamardella; Rino Giacalone; Alessandro Sallusti; Antonio Passanese; Danilo Lupo; Concita De Gregorio, Federica Fantozzi, Maria Novella Oppo, editore Unità; Gianmarco Di Napoli; Manuel Gardoni, Giulia Gualtieri; Sara Mariani; Alida Amico, Graziella Lombardo; Federica Angeli; Gaia Bozza, Peppe Pace; Franco Mariani; Carmelo Abbate; Collaboratore SIComunicazione; Salvo Palazzolo; Pasquale Clemente; Alessandra Buccini e videoperatore PiazzaPulita; Enza Dell’Acqua; Marco Lillo; Francesca Cuomo; Pasquale Napolitano; Klaus Davi, Loredana Colloca, Alberto Micelotta.

How have they been threatened

Because of their work they have been affected by violence, discrimination and various abuses, according to the following categories of the Ossigeno classification: light attacks, insults, death threats, threats on facebook and other social networks, explosion or explosives , abuses of law, libel suits deemed spurious, lawsuits for damages considered instrumental, incriminations for arbitrary publication of court documents, obstacle to information.

The most violent week

The week from 10 to 16 June was particularly violent. Twelve journalists were hit by acts of intimidation, insults, abuses, restrictions of freedom of the press, in Trapani, Rome, Naples, Florence, Bergamo, Brindisi, Reggio Emilia. “The impression was that of an escalation, and it would be something very serious. But perhaps we are only faced with the fact that now these episodes begin to make headlines, and this is certainly something good, also thanks to Ossigeno”.

See http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/07/the-fever-grows-the-silence-is-great-but-fnsi-and-order-are-on-the-move-71339/

The courage to react

Gradually, a growing number of reporters has broken the silence and denounced acts of intimidation and retaliation. This is due in most part to Ossigeno‘s activities of informing and documenting, which is intense and has a widespread penetration. For example, in June 2016, to make known the topical episodes, Ossigeno per l’Informazione published 110 news stories (78 in Italian, 32 in English) allowing the free sharing on the sole condition of mentioning the source. This news was published on the website, on social networks, have been spread through weekly newsletters, and the most alarming cases were reported to the media through press releases. Although a few large newspapers and almost no national television network have given coverage, this information reached thousands of journalists and all social actors, politicians, parliamentarians, trade unions who are interested in the problem.

Threatened mayors protest in a march

Despite the fact that the number journalists who report threats are more and more numerous, despite the fact that Italian journalists are increasingly aware of the nature, seriousness and extent of the problem, they do not react collectively to demand answers from politics and Parliament, to ask solidarity from the civil society. Other categories on the other hand do. They have been doing so for some time and more and more actively. As is the case of the mayors and public administrators who because of their duties are subject to threats, reprisals and abuses similar to those of the reporters. On June 24 they organized in Calabria the “First National March of local administrators under fire”. The event was promoted successfully by Avviso Pubblico, along with the union of Italian journalists and Ossigeno. These mayors gave reporters a fine example of mobilization, Ossigeno has commented, noting that there are many more threatened journalists. (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/07/in-calabria-the-first-walk-of-threatened-mayors-71353/).

The threatened journalists do not mobilize despite growing evidence that they could positively influence policy decisions that affect the protection of who collects and disseminates information in the public interest. As well as on other measures that can increase or decrease the pressure on press freedom. It was clearly shown on June 8th in the Senate.

More or less prison for defamation?

The parliamentary alliance that wanted to increase from six to nine years imprisonment for the guilty of libel against judges, politicians and public administrators, on June 8th, at the moment of voting, backtracked. It gave up despite it held the necessary votes to approve the norm. That alliance has given up in the face of unanimous protest from the journalistic world, the loud alarm launched by Ossigeno to international institutions, promptly collected by the “Platform for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists of the Council of Europe” and the Representative on Media Freedom of the OSCE, Dunja Mijatovic. See: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70715

This match has been won, but the alarm can not be considered to be over (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/defamation-its-too-soon-to-rejoice-of-a-narrow-miss-71699/) and as such both the problem and the need for a much more effective social action to contrast the attempts to approve rules that instead of enlarging it, would limit the legislative area of journalism, still remains. Indeed, the majority party leaders have already announced their intention to propose the same rule with another measure. As much as it may seem absurd, there is the possibility to enter that same tightening of the custodial sentence in the bill presented in 2013 with opposite purpose: to abolish altogether the prison sentence and replace it with a fine. This is the known the bill presented in parliament after the arrest of the journalist Alessandro Sallusti. A text in which Parliament has already incorporated many contradictory and pejorative amendments that make it a remedy worse than evil. To bring it back to its original objective, without producing serious side effects, now seems difficult, even impossible, because of the parliamentary rules that prevent the correction of its essential parts. And this may be the reason why the bill has been dormant in the Senate for over a year now, without going any forward, serving as a screen that allows politicians to say that they are indeed facing the problem, while at the same time allowing for prison sentences to hold and keeping alive the chilling effect that these produce. Unfortunately, the Italian parliamentarians do not want to give up this sword of Damocles, as explained by Ossigeno’s legal expert, Andrea Di Pietro. See http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/prison-a-damocles-sword-which-no-one-wants-to-pass-on-71705/

A conviction that hasn’t moved any heart

Not even the prospect of a new Sallusti case is able to shake Parliament. A fact that has become glaring in this month with the failure to react adequately to the sentence to two years imprisonment and a 1500 euro fine for the journalist Pasquale Clemente, former chief editor of the newspaper La Gazzetta di Caserta. The journalist is not locked in a cell or is under house arrest only because he has appealed against the sentence in the first degree and is now awaiting the appeal trial. Once again, the disproportion between the crime and the punishment is clear, as the European institutions never tire of repeating, Ossigeno commented, and observing that the prison sentence would have been even more serious if the aggravating circumstance hypothesised and not yet approved by the Senate had been in force. To be risking prison again this time is the same Sallusti, the journalist who in 2012 ended under house arrest and returned free only after the intervention of the President of the Republic, who commuted the prison sentence to a fine and urged Parliament to change the law. Sallusti is again accused of defamation. A prosecutor has asked for him six months in prison.

International calls are not news

To be able to understand what there really is behind the perennial game of mirrors that allows the government and the political parties to find justification in the face of any criticism by saying that Parliament is debating a reform is very difficult, partly because the papers do not give any space to this information nor do they vent criticism and international recalls. For example, in June they did not report that the fifth report on Italy published in Strasbourg by the “European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)” indicated serious gaps to be filled in the anti-discrimination legislation. See: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/racial-discrimination-and-hate-recall-from-the-council-of-europe-to-italy-71707/

In Rome, a RAI journalist expelled from district

An episode of this month has received quite some media coverage. In Rome, on June 15, 2016, the journalist Sara Mariani, reporter for the TV show of the public broadcaster RAI, Agorà, was threatened while she was on live with the studios. She was with her crew in the Tor Bella Monaca district, on the outskirts of Rome, where the day before, during a drug bust, 29 people were arrested. This incident, the president of the Anti-Mafia Commission, Rosy Bindi, said, is a photograph of a territory in which mafia-style criminality exercises a pervasive control.” See: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/rome-get-out-journalist-of-agora-threatened-during-live-broadcast-70926/

Defamation and men of honor

Three years ago, in Trapani, a Sicilian journalist, Rino Giacalone, had reconstructed in an article in the nefarious criminal enterprises of the boss and had concluded with a tirade, saying that with his passing, Sicily had lost “a great piece of s…”. The heirs of the mafia boss had sued him for libel. Forty families of people murdered by the mafia had defended the journalist’s right to express a colorful judgment being a competent person, a judgment motivated by facts and their timely exposure. The judges of the Court shared this assessment by filing the lawsuit with a wide motivation published by Ossigeno. The judges admitted that the expression used was harmful – said Andrea Di Pietro, legal counsel of Ossigeno, but they considered it lawful, recognizing its rhetoric and evocative power, “functional to the demolition of social respect and silence that have historically protected mobsters, considered in the collective imagination as men of honor.” See: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/it-is-not-a-crime-to-define-a-mobster-as-a-great-pieco-of-s-but-it-is-the-exception-71712/

Lawsuit in bad faith, to trial for slander

In Verona, the Mayor Flavio Tosi has been indicted (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=71446) He stands accused of slander and continued defamation against the journalist Sigfrido Ranucci, investigative reporter of the television investigative program RAI Report that the mayor himself had sued for libel accusing it of improperly collecting information regarding his work as a public administrator. According to prosecutors the mayor’s allegations were formulated in bad faith and his lawsuit was sent to the archives. Ossigeno follows the case with interest because in Italy the crime of slander is rarely charged to pretentious plaintiffs.

In court alongside the threatened

Among the positive signals, Ossigeno has stressed the increased attention of the organizations representing the journalistic category in Italy, the Order of Journalists and the FNSI (the union). The latter has begun to support the threatened journalists in court. The FNSI is part of the International Federation of Journalists, which during the triennial congress, which was held in Angers (France) from June 7 to 10, took on the issues of security and protection. “Too many of our colleagues are being killed because they do their job: an average two every week”, the secretary general Anthony Bellanger said. (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/angers-if-the-union-starts-speaking-of-violent-and-hidden-censorship-71717/)

Government’s good intentions

A positive sign came from the Secretary for Justice, Gennaro Migliore, who, urged by the President of the FNSI, Giuseppe Giulietti, said to be in favor of a law that welcomes some proposals of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission (those that suggests Ossigeno has been pushing for six years), including the introduction of a new offense and specific aggravating circumstances for those who knowingly impede the exercise of freedom of the press.

Ossigeno has new partner in Spain

In June, Ossigeno has established a collaboration agreement with the Spanish Association Plataforma en Defensa de la Libertad de Información (PDLI), whose aim is to share the monitoring method of threats developed by the Observatory. Ossigeno will make available to Plataforma its experience, and the two outlets will host on their websites the respective articles. (see : http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/the-ossigeno-method-adopted-in-spain-by-plataforma-70459/)

Threats and acts of intimidation

Here are some of the most disturbing facts documented by Ossigeno:

–  death threats (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70784) to Carmelo Abbate (reporter of the weekly Panorama and opinion voice in the TV show Quarto Grado), received via web, following months of insults;

–  the aggression and the death threats, in Naples, against Gaia Bozza of FanPage (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70774), following an inquiry in a vote trading scandal;

–  the sentenced to two years in prison for defamation in the press to the chief editor of the newspaper Roma (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/more-prison-for-libel-two-years-to-chief-editor-roma-70584/) Pasquale Clemente, charged by a former judge and senator who in 2010 did not find amusing some highly polemical articles against him;

–  the request for a sentence to six months in prison for defamation for the chief edior of Il Giornale Alessandro Sallusti (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=71449), sued by a contractor that the journalist had called a “crook”;

–  indictment (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70928) for libel of the journalists Alida Amico and Graziella Lombardo (chief editor of the Sicilian outlet Centonove), sued after an article which accused of illegal practices a cooperative that operates a slaughterhouse;

–  the devastation in Palermo of the garden of the house of journalist Dina Lauricella (see: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/destroyed-in-palermo-the-garden-of-a-mafia-reporter-70464/), five months after the burning of her car;

–  the indictement of Marco Bova, a journalist accused in Catania to have provided false information to the public prosecutor, after having simply refused (last October) to disclose to the judge the source of some information contained in his article (see:  http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70932);

– the insults (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70708) received on Facebook by Salvo Palazzolo (of the daily newspaper La Repubblica) for having told of the the tribute provided during a religious procession to the wife of the Mafia boss Totò Riina;

– threats and insults to Gianmarco Di Napoli, chief editor of the online newspaper Senza Colonne, received by a candidate to city councilor (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/threats-on-facebook-against-chief-editor-of-online-newspaper-senza-colonne-71728/);

– the insults (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/federica-angeli-insulted-at-the-end-of-the-fasciani-and-triassi-trial-70770/) to Federica Angeli (reporter of La Repubblica who has been living under police protection for yeats), received at the end of a mafia trial by one of the defendants (acquitted);

– the explosion of a bomb device (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70467) in front of the house of Pasquale Napolitano (Retenews24), which could be linked to his articles on the election campaign of Camposano (in the province of Naples).

Other significant events of the month

– the sentencing of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi government to pay 17 thousand euro to the newspaper l’Unità and its former chief editor Concita De Gregorio to whom he had requested – accusing them of defamation – 1.8 million euro following the publication, in 2009 , of a critical comment against him

(link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=71342);

– the acquittal of the journalist Rino Giacalone (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/?p=70704), sued for defamation by the wife of a boss whom he called “a piece of shit.” According to Ossigeno, the lawsuit was no more but an attempt to abuse justice and address threatening messages to Giacalone. Despite the undoubted cause of injury of the expression used, the judges – said Andrea Di Pietro, legal counsel of Ossigeno (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/it-is-not-a-crime-to-define-a-mobster-as-a-great-pieco-of-s-but-it-is-the-exception-71712/) – have accepted it as lawful, recognizing its rhetorical and evocative power, “functional to the demolition of social respect and silence that has historically protected mobsters considered in the collective mind as men of honor” ;

– the opinion of lawyer Valerio Vartolo on the meaning commonly given to the term “anti-mafia journalist”, widely used in some areas of public life and of journalism itself to designate those reporters who exercise documentation activities animated by a fighting spirit aimed at countering the Mafia phenomenon (link: http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/2016/06/its-an-antimafia-journalist-but-what-does-it-mean-71732/).

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