Italy. Ossigeno’s most dangerous news. July 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
This month 29 journalists and bloggers have been threatened
In July 2016, Ossigeno per l’Informazione has documented threats and acts of intimidation in Italy at the expense of 29 journalists, bloggers and other media professionals (26 men and 3 women) in order to obstruct their activities of citizens’ informers. The Observatory has verified the facts, analysed and categorized the manner of the threat and made public the individual episodes with the publication of detailed information. The names of those threatened were listed in the Table of the names of victims of serious violations of press freedom and freedom of expression produced by the Observatory, and which is available online (see here). This list contains 2,923 names, 250 of which were added during the first 210 days of 2016. The table also provides a schematic display of the episodes.
The tip of the iceberg
The 29 cases reported by Ossigeno are only the tip of the iceberg, it is what the Italian observatory is able to see and to focus on. But how many acts of intimidation and threats against journalists and bloggers in Italy are there really? At least ten times more, Ossigeno concludes based on its decade-old experience. Many are not known, many may not be made public for the following reasons: the victims have not the strength to denounce, there is no objective documentation of the facts, there is no precise reconstruction of the event. Many victims choose silence for fear of retaliation, others seek a compromise with the wrongdoers.
The 29 reporters who have been hit in July are: Emanuele Sabatino; Franco Antonacci, Ilaria Cavallone; Davide Camarrone; Erminio Cioffi; Luigi Boschi; Giorgio Mulè, Antonio Rossitto; Giovanni Parisi; Iacopo Sonnino; Emanuele Zanini; Ersilio Mattioni, Lucrezia Cantarello; Annarosa Macri; Francesco Furlan; Giuliano Foschini, Marco Mensura, Claudio Malagoli, Francesco Ceniti, Luigi Maria Perna, Lorenzo Pulcioni, Giorgio Barbieri; Pierluigi Dallapina; Claudio Brambilla, Daniele De Salvo, Fabrizio Alfano; Klaus Davi; Roberto Saviano, Ezio Mauro.
How they were intimidated
Violence, discrimination and abuse, according to the classification by Ossigeno (see http://notiziario.ossigeno.info/tutti-i-numeri-delle-minacce/indice-tipologia-di-minacce/), fall in the following categories : citation for damages considered instrumental (2), mild aggression (2), abuse of law (14), summons for damages considered instrumental (1), lawsuit for defamation deemed specious (4), discrimination and arbitrary exclusion (3), blog dimming (partial or total) (1), injuction (1), threats via Facebook and other social networks (1).
The activity of giving information
The media attention to the threats to journalists is very low. Therefore, on top of producing dossiers on individual cases, Ossigeno is also responsible for disseminating knowledge with an intense informative activity on the web, allowing to reach thousands of readers who have a specific interest in knowing these acts and these dynamics. In July, Ossigeno has therefore published 93 news stories (39 in English and 54 in Italian) to communicate 16 new threats and 10 updates on already reported threats. Another 28 posts have analyzed the trend and reported more general problems of freedom of information, including in relation to legislation. Beyond the single news cases, Ossigeno has also produced and released four newsletters in Italian and English and a monthly summary report on the events of June 2016, sent to the ECPMF, published in Italian, English and French (Read).
The complaints for defamation that are instrumental, spurious, unfounded – allowed by an unjust law that seems impossible to reform – remain one of the weapons adoperated more frequently to limit the freedom of information. This abuse is easy and cheap. By now, this powerful conditioning tool is used by people of every social category: also many politicians and local administrators, as demonstrated by the cases occurred in July in Mesagne, in Puglia (where the commissioner is suing a journalist who has been invited by the mayor to step down), and Acerra (in the Campania region).
These instrumental initiatives affect the journalists under trial for the whole period of the trial (that is, often for years), and, fortunately, when the judge ultimately decides, in many cases sides against the plaintiffs: this is stated, for example, by the judgment that has acknowledged the correctness of an article by the well-known writer Roberto Saviano and the filing of libel suits against Annarosa Macrì (Quotidiano del Sud), Ersilio Mattioni and Lucrezia Cantarello (Libera Stampa l’Altomilanese) (read here and here). It went badly, on the other hand, for the reporters of the weekly Panorama Antonio Rossitto and Giorgio Mulè (who is the managing editor): they have been convicted of libel (although the prosecutor had asked for absolution) and have to pay more than 45 thousand euro to the President of the Sicily Region, Rosario Crocetta.
In the suburbs the situation is worse
In local situations, and not only in some southern regions, violence is still frequently employed against the most impertinent and tenacious journalists, against those who persist in making unwelcome questions. In Calabria, the journalist Klaus Davi was attacked by two men who prevented him to interview the mother of a collaborator of justice. In Parma, Pierluigi Dallapina, political columnist of the newspaper La Gazzetta di Parma, was punched and insulted by a supporter of the Democratic Party, which, apparently, did not like one of his articles. In Veneto, the mayor of Torri del Benaco prevented access to a public event to Emanuele Zanini, chronicler of the Verona newspaper L’Arena. In Padua, the mayor has decided to limit the access of journalists to the town hall. In Campania, the journalists of the newspaper La Città described in an article the very real problems produced by the Bank of Cilento to account holders because of the change of account numbers. The Bank responded with a written warning not to cover anymore the same issue. In Formia (in the province of Latina), the journalist Francesco Furlan is being investigated by the judiciary for disclosure of information covered by investigation secrecy, for having written in an article on the direction of the investigations in order to find those responsible for an arson attack set to destroy a wine shop.
The sports world remains a difficult area for journalists. Seven reporters from national and local newspapers who have written news articles on the scandal called “Last Bet” (a case of rigged betting and games under investigation by magistrates) are being sued by former sports director of Atalanta Calcio and will have to defend themselves in court in Piacenza.
The Associazione Sportiva Roma Calcio has instead withdrawn the accreditations to two journalists (Iacopo Sonnino of Radio Radio and Giovanni Parisi of Centro Suono Sport). They were punished for having broadcast the audio recordings of two press conferences without the company’s consent.
In Rome, about twenty journalists left the press conference convened by Claudio Lotito, president of the other major football team in the capital, the S.S. Lazio. Lotito made a statement to the microphone. Then he refused to answer questions from reporters on topical events.
Headlines – News that make you think
The successful conclusion of the “Vatileaks 2” trial, that took place within the State of the Vatican City, was of great importance. Technically, the trial did not take place in Italy but the accused journalists, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, are Italian and they were accused of spreading news and confidential documents of the Holy See, by publishing two books in Italy. As is known, those documents have revealed the incorrect and outrageous use of Vatican finances. After eight months of trial, the Vatican Court declined to judge the two defendants, claiming to have no jurisdiction over the events that occurred abroad and on responsibilities of foreign citizens.
Ossigeno emphasized how this story is emblematic outside of Italian borders: it took place in the heart of Europe and similar trials take place in other European countries, with the difference that they do not have the same media attention and do not provoke similar protests by international institutions and journalists’ organizations, in spite these put into serious difficulties the journalists accused and compel them to bear the economic costs for the legal defence.
The right to be informed and the problem of prison sentences
It is to be noted as a positive fact the beginning of the trial, at the Court of Ragusa, against those charged with death threats to journalist Paolo Borrometi. The threats to journalists are frequent and numerous. But it rarely happens that he who has launched the threat is called upon to defend himself from the accusation in court. It is equally important that organizations, associations of journalists and other people have reported to have been damaged by threats that have limited the freedom of information and the Court has recognized their right to be included among the plaintiffs. For the FNSI, the united union of Italian journalists, it was the first time and it is encouraging news.
A new aggravating circumstance
Also at the political level there is a growing attention to these problems. For years Ossigeno has been leading a campaign to demand that persons responsible for crimes committed for the purpose of intimidation or reprisals against journalists see an aggravating circumstance to the sentence. This proposal has been endorsed by the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission. Now Congressman Ferdinand Aiello (Democratic Party) has turned this assumption into a bill. It proposes to increase penalties for those who commit crimes in order to prevent the right to information. This would be done through the establishment in the Criminal Code of the specific aggravating factor that increases sentencing by a third. The MP also promotes the application to the guilty, as a corollary and a security measure, of a ban on residence for four years in the region where the victim resides.
Ossigeno per l’Informazione points out that it would also be necessary to introduce a new offense in the code so as to punish those who hinder freedom of information, regardless of other crimes committed for other purposes.
Prison sentence for police radio listeners
A decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected the claim of some Italian journalists sentenced to prison terms because they listened to the service communications via police radio. They did so to get timely information on serious news stories in order to reach the scene of the crime and carry news reports. To have done so, three journalists of Merateonline were sentenced to prison (with the benefit of the suspension of sentence and the non mention). According to the Strasbourg judges, journalists must act with the norms of legality especially in relations with the authorities and are therefore not exempt from compliance with the law.
Once upon a time
Meanwhile in Parliament it has been lying in a deep sleep the bill to abolish the penalty of imprisonment for libel charge. Ossigeno has pointed out that probably this bill, because of conflicting changes, can not solve the problem without creating more serious ones (read more). But the problem remains as well as the chilling effect that the possibility of the prison determines. Despite the judges continue to sentence suspects to imprisonment, the topic has disappeared from the political agenda and the pages of newspapers. As such, the Senate President Pietro Grasso (and Ossigeno honorary member) did well to affirm once again its opposition to imprisonment for journalists. He did so on 21 July during the ceremony of the Ventaglio, in which annually he greets journalists of the Parliamentary Press Association before the summer holidays. Grasso also touched on another aspect of the problem: the need to render highly counterproductive the use of spurious and unfounded complaints. For this purpose, as at other times, he asked Parliament to provide for “a fine proportional to the unfounded claims in case of reckless complaints”. He also indicated the way of self-regulation to manage the publication of contents of wiretaps placed in judicial investigations: it is possible to reconcile, he said – through self-regulation and the use of ethics – principles of secrecy of investigations, confidentiality of private life and the right to information.
Right to be forgotten after two years?
The Observatory has negatively judged the decision by the Supreme Court (the court of last resort in Italy) that – by changing the previous guidelines – has forced the online newspaper Primadanoi.it to remove, two years after the events described, a news story that tells properly the real events that occurred in the recent past. To prevail, according to the judges, was the right to be forgotten that, while in Italy has not yet been coded by any law, should protect individual reputation from the consequences of events that occurred in the past. Ossigeno recalls that this right is not regulated by any legislation, and that the decision is in contrast with the principles according to which the oblivion concerns facts significantly distant in time and should not be applied to those for which there remains a public interest on the knowledge in Italy.
Do journalists have to apologize?
Ossigeno has published a dossier on the case of the MP Ilaria Capua (link) from which arose a strong controversy between known Italian journalists on the consequences of the acquittal of a suspect. The case can be summarized as follows: in 2014 a journalist with the weekly L’Espresso revealed exclusively that an MP, who is also a well known scientist, had been for seven years under judicial investigation for very serious crimes (attempted epidemic, corruption, criminal conspiracy). Two years later the MP was acquitted because the crime had been extinguished by prescription. From the pages of the Corriere della Sera and other newspapers some journalists have criticized their colleague at L’Espresso and said that now he has to apologize to the delegate. The story reveals two conceptions of journalism that are difficult to reconcile. As such, is better not to give certain news? (read more)
Two blogs obscured by the judiciary
Ossigeno has raised the case of the blog www.ilgorgon.eu which has been obscured on a preventive basis by judicial order, which is now of four years ago, according to a libel action on the contents of two of the thousands of pages. The blog is still obscured, seized and made inaccessible to the owner and users. Yet, the journalist Antonio Brindisi, who was the curator, says that from the beginning the conditions for the seizure were missing because the few disputed contents had been removed spontaneously. To ask for the release from seizure at some point became too expensive (read more).
Ossigeno has also reported the case of another blog – www.luigiboschi.it – remained obscured for 304 days for similar reasons. The story was released on July 29 by the Bologna Court of Appeals, which has restored access to the site via internet.