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Defamation. Ossigeno to Agcom: prison weighs heavy on local reporters

The burden is especially on them, Andrea Di Pietro and Alberto Spampinato said in handing the dossier with data from the Ministry of Justice

The Ossigeno dossier (read) with the data of the Ministry of Justice on prison sentences for libel, inflicted every year in Italy at an average of 155 journalists for a total of 103 years in prison, was delivered to AGCOM, which has acquired it, at a hearing which took place on Thursday, November 10, 2016 as part of an “Inquiry into local reporting” (see) conducted by the Authority for Communications.

“These data, which capture the trend of first degree trials celebrated annually – said Alberto Spampinato, director of Ossigeno – represent a much more dramatic situation than what was previously known and impose swift and consequential legislative choices. When the house is burning you have to quell the fire, it is not enough to present a bill and drag the debate on indefinitely. You have to pour water on the fire and not gasoline, as is instead proposing the law currently under discussion in the Senate. It is necessary to abolish imprisonment leaving as the only punishment the fines already provided for, without trying to raise them in order to recreate in other ways the same chilling effect on information.”

The lawyer Andrea Di Pietro, head of the One-Stop-Shop Legal Desk by Ossigeno, which offers free assistance to journalists who do not have publisher coverage nor the means to defend themselves against instrumental lawsuits and specious and unfounded claims, pointed out that the chilling effect of sentences to prison is even higher than it appears from the new data because “these convictions weigh mostly on local journalists working for small publications, as reflected in the early comments Ossigeno acquired from lawyers who defend journalists of large publishing groups. On top of the abolition of prison – Di Pietro said – it is necessary to change the current libel offense in order to distinguish negligence from wilfulness, which is much more serious than before, allowing reporters to have insurance to cover professional errors, as occurs in other professions, leaving judges the tools to punish with due severity the so-called mud-slinging machine.”

“Today Ossigeno is furthering the research – Spampinato said – because it is necessary to illuminate this and other aspects of the phenomenon which linger in shadows. The aim is to help institutions make decisions based on accurate knowledge of the effects of existing legislation. Ossigeno – he added – is in fact the pilot of that public monitoring agency which in recent months, both the Council of Europe and the United Nations, with explicit Recommendations and Resolutions, have requested the Member States to create in each country to keep under constant observation the attacks on journalists and the legislation on press freedom.”

ASP

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