O2 in English

“My brother Giovanni and his risky investigations”

The President of Ossigeno, Alberto Spampinato, made this speech in Leipzig on October 5, 2017, at the conference “Defending journalists under threats”

When he was murdered, 45 years ago, my brother Giovanni was 25 years old. I was 22. I was a student. He was a journalist.

For three years he had been a reporter for the daily evening newspaper L’Ora di Palermo”.

He was the special corrispondent from Ragusa, a quiet town located in the far south east side of Sicily, on the opposite side of the island from Palermo where the press room and the printing of the “L’Ora” newspaper were located. That newspaper has ceased to exist for more than 25 years but its story is recorded in history as an example of investigative journalism.

In October 1958, “L’Ora” published the first true, objective and detailed journalistic inquiry into the Sicilian Mafia. The newspaper displayed on the front page photographs of the Mafia bosses with the title “Wanted”.

The article explained the actual hierarchy of the organized crime’s mobs and its network of political protection. No newspaper had ever done this before. No newspaper did it anymore after that.

L’Ora published the faces and names of the bloody bosses who were currently running criminal businesses in Italy. In this way the Sicilian newspaper openly challenged the Mafia in the very same territory where it had its roots. It was a challenge because, to survive, Mafia always imposes a silence on its activities and imposes this silence with terror. The Mafia reacted to that journalistic investigation with bombs against the printing-house to stop the printing of the newspaper. Moreover it threatened the team of investigative journalists. But the printing went ahead and the editor replied with this headline: “We are not afraid, our investigation continues“. In the following years, the newspaper faced many other threats and a lot of specious trials but was able to prevail each time in front of the courts. Three journalists from L’Ora were assassinated, the first in 1960, the second one in 1970 and the third in 1972.

My brother Giovanni was the third.

On October 27, 1972, he was barbarously killed, in Sicily, hit by six gunshot bullets fired at close range.  The killer was a man sitting beside him in the small car owned by my brother. It was late evening. Outside it was raining. My brother was driving the car. That man had asked to meet Giovanni in order to give him confidential information about who was responsible for a mysterious murder which had occurred six months before in the same town.

That man was suspected to be involved in some way in that killing, as he was the last person to meet the victim who had been a close friend. My brother was the only journalist that had revealed that he was under suspicion.

Before going ahead I want to say that it’s very difficult to explain why the murder of my brother is linked to Mafia. It was difficult also for me to understand what really happened. Everybody tried to tell this story as an episode of imprudence by a kid who was playing as a game the job of a reporter and made big mistakes because of his inexperience. Local reporters even now still say openly that my brother would have done better closing his eyes and keep under wraps the news that he had learned, as they wisely did. Some of them boasted to me for giving that advice to my brother. “Don’t do it, it does not suit you,” they told him. My brother did not listen to what they were saying. He refused self-censorship. He was a journalist.

My brother  acted as an honest and brave journalist. This had been clear since the beginning.

But other correspondents openly denied his stand, defending their way to keep news under wraps instead.

Many journalists act in the same way even now, defending their behaviour.

This was clear two years ago when another journalist – Paolo Borrometi – acted in the same way as my brother, in the same town where my brother had lived and was threatened to death.

His local fellow colleagues did not defend him openly but isolated him saying he was not a true journalist as they were.

Many journalists now accept a reasonable level of self-censorship in order to protect themselves.

This is happening now in Ragusa, like it happens in many other towns in Italy and in many other countries.

I think that this is a sort of compromise that destroys journalism and must be fought to defend freedom of information.

The true story of my brother is a metaphor of all this.

I can say it today with the utmost confidence because I myself, after the death of my brother, in order to understand these matters became a journalist and worked for 40 years as a reporter. With this professional experience, a few years ago I reconstructed my brother’s life and death and told his true story in a book. That reconstruction gave him the professional reward he deserved from many years.

Moreover it has made it clear to me and many others that behind threats to journalists there is always a recurring dynamic that we need to know if we want to give reporters the necessary and effective protection needed for their work. From the analysis of my brother’s death and in his memory, the Observatory Ossigeno per l’Informazione was born, which we will discuss later.

Giovanni was 25 years old. In his last two years he made a special inquiry in the field. His exclusive journalistic research reported in the newspaper discovered that in the South East corner of Sicily some extreme right-wing groups secretly carried out military training for their adherents. These groups had weapons and explosives and were linked with people suspected of the 1969 terrorist attacks in Rome and Milan. Moreover they were linked to the Fascist regime of colonels, who at the time were in power in Greece.

While he was publishing in instalments this investigation he and is newspaper were threatened. In Ragusa, the town he was living in, renowned for being a very quite town, something happened absolutely out of the ordinary.

A well known man, an engineer, was murdered  in a way that specialists immediately defined as that of the mafia.

After a while some people linked to the extremist group that my brother had uncovered in his inquiry were involved in the investigation for this murder.

It was a well-known fact , it was information of public interest, but only Giovanni had told about these people with an article in the newspaper. Everyone was afraid to write that news. Why? I think because the suspect was the son of the chief magistrate of the city, the president of the court.

The suspect had reacted with a lawsuit for defamation but after a month he had withdrawn the accusation because what my brother had written was true and had been correctly reported . My brother had written three more articles, highlighting the unclear aspects of the judicial inquiry into the murder and in the last article he interviewed the suspect, reported his reasons and his alibi. Yet that man was not satisfied. He wanted an impossible thing: that my brother would write in an article that he was innocent, he wanted it to be reported that there was a war conspiracy being waged against him and his father, the magistrate. He had already asked for other meetings with the journalist promising him documents showing what he was saying. That evening they had met for that very reason. We do not know exactly what happened because there are no witnesses. We know the suspect chose a special place to commit the murder: the entrance to the prison. He fired two guns. Then he got out of the car, crossed the street, knocked on the door of the jail and handed himself over to the officers saying, “I killed a man, he was persecuting me”.

I told the whole story in Italian in the book “There were beutiful dogs but very serious”.


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