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Press freedom. Reporters without Borders misses again on Italy’s evaluation

The improvement of twenty positions in one year motivated by imprecise and incorrect data. Used a non-scientific method. Ossigeno’s doubts

Ossigeno regards the 52nd place assigned to Italy in the standings published in the Report on Freedom of Press 2016 by Reporters Sans Frontieres to be wrong for various reasons. The report indicates an improvement in the Italian situation that does we have not measured, and on the basis of which Italy gains well over twenty positions, albeit remaining behind many European countries with similar, if not more serious, problems. It is striking and inexplicable that RSF gives such judgments on freedom of the press in Italy and does so by citing incorrect facts: by attributing Italy’s acquittals in the Vatileaks 2 case, saying that journalists under police protection are six and not at least three times as many (as four of them immediately remembered), by marking as approved a gag law, which fortunately was thrown out instead. The comparison with Spain alone, ranked 29th, shows the inconsistency of this ranking and the data gathering method.

In the RSF ranking, Italy is ranked 52nd out of 180 countries surveyed. On the same list, Spain, a country where the Mordaza laws had a tremendous limitation on freedom of information, was ranked 29th with an improvement of five positions in a year. Germany is also ranked 16th (stationary), France 39th (up 6 positions), the UK 40th (down by 2). As in other years, the position assigned to each is summarily motivated by an unverifiable process.

What are these rankings based on? For each country, RSF collects information through surveys submitted to a sample of interviewees whose consistency or composition is not known. The information is then processed by RSF in a discretionary way to obtain a score for each country. According to it, it is established that a country is more or less free than another. The result often punches reality in the face.

For years, Ossigeno per l’Informazione has been trying to dialogue with RSF to convince this respectable organization to innovate its methods. It would be enough to replace the collection of views with a systematic collection of actual and verifiable, and real, data, as Ossigeno per l’Informazione does in Italy, and then compare the results with a transparent evaluation method. So far these attempts have been out of the question. As a result, this year, Ossigeno, as its own choice, did not take part in the RSF opinion poll.

“Survey” is the keyword to understand the limits of the method used by RSF: because basically the RSF ranking consists of a poll of opinions, but done without making known the sample data and the method that are essential to judging the reliability of any survey. The RSF ranking has all the credibility limits of a poll done in this way. It also has the limit of truth that all the findings that replace actual data with opinions on what is happening have: usually in this way it is not possible to represent a phenomenon, but rather the subjective perception of that phenomenon, which nonetheless useful data. But it does not describe the actual reality. In wanting to assimilate it to reality, it can produce imperfect, approximate and often erroneous representations.

This way of proceeding can have some meaning and some justification when assessing the degree of freedom of the press in those authoritarian countries where censorship prevents the collection of data and the ability to openly express views. But there is no sense or justification in countries like Italy where data can be browsed, gathered and verified.

But let’s get back to this latest report on Italy. RSF reports a tremendous improvement in press freedom over the past year and motivates it with a display of facts that contain remarkable mistakes. For example, Reporters Sans Frontieres attributes to Italy, and not to the Vatican City, which is an autonomous State entity, the merit of having acquitted the journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi prosecuted for hacking in the Vatileaks case. It says that the number of journalists under police protection is merely six, and not at least three times as many, as Ossigeno duly reported. It says in general terms that there are some journalists who have been threatened and points out to the alarming fact that some journalists have been denigrated by Beppe Grillo and the Five Stars Movement, but it does not make any mention of the 412 journalists threatened, intimidated, attacked, spuriously charged that Ossigeno has listed one by one. Nor does it point to the fact that 5,125 unfounded lawsuits for defamation have been sent to the archives during the preliminary investigation phase, as reported by Ossigeno on the basis of information from the Ministry of Justice. It then quotes generically, as if a “new law” had been passed, which provided for an aggravated punishment, from six to nine years in prison, for those who defamed politicians, judges, and public officials. We must notify that this is a serious mistake: this law has been discussed but the proposal has been withdrawn and thus has never been approved, no matter what the people interviewed by RSF said.

Dear friends of RSF, try to understand that to know how things are going, do not just ask someone. You have to roll up the sleeves, look for information one by one and check them with care and expertise. Otherwise fake news take hold, the credibility of alarms when launched to denounce the reduction of press freedom is eroded, and the work of organizations like Ossigeno, which has been putting great energy and effort in Italy to gather unquestionable data on the increasing worsening of the situation, and for which unfortunately there is still no sign of improvement, is made harder. If these are the only results you get with your method, what are you waiting to change it?

ASP

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