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Mafia and information. Serious attacks, many protests, little solidarity

This excerpt is taken from the extensive research carried out by “Ossigeno per l’Informazione ONLUS”, commissioned by the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission

In November 2017, two serious incidents occurred in Sicily and in the Lazio regions, which have created an unprecedented attention, also at the media and institutional level, towards the phenomenon of violent conditioning of the reporters engaged in collecting and disseminating unpublished information on the activity of criminal groups connected with mafia characters and clans. The situation stemms from the blatant threats against the journalist Paolo Borrometi, who has been under police protection since 2014, and the equally blatant attack on journalist Daniele Piervincenzi and video operator Edoardo Anselmi. Adding to a crescendo of other serious acts of intimidation of the same kind (since the beginning of the year there were 281 recorded cases published by Ossigeno, of which 120 in Rome and in Lazio), these episodes had a snowball effect (…).

Public reactions to Ostia’s aggression have been stronger and more participated than in the past, and it is a positive fact. At the same time, participation in public protest initiatives appeared lower than expected. Therefore, even those who suffer such serious and unjust attacks, attacks that damage the entire community, do not get much solidarity. This is a collateral but nonetheless essential aspect of the problem. Because social isolation weakens victims, it helps to spread a climate of intimidation that tells everyone else “watch out for what you do”. This element has already emerged many times, following serious episodes. It was evident, for example, after the personal attacks of the defense lawyer of one of the defendants in the “Roma Capitale” trial to the journalist Lirio Abbate, the author of the exclusive journalistic investigation which, before the investigation of the magistrature had started, had denounced the criminal events that took place in Rome. In January 2016, the lawyer opposed the author of the scoop to all the other journalists, indicating the fact that these had not written on the subject because they were professionally correct. (…) These episodes repeated themselves. Each time there was an uproar from the top of the category in defense of Lirio Abbate. But few public reactions of solidarity in its favor by individual journalists, other newspapers and even less by non-journalists.

It is clear that only a small part of public opinion and the media system recognizes the public function of journalism in the news, that few have a clear understanding of the fact that freedom of information is a right and a social asset to be defended always, is an inalienable right of every citizen.

Many people have condemned the aggression of Ostia. Most of them reacted to the brutality of the gesture. Some have demonstrated against mafia crime. Others against the re-emergence of extreme right-wing political violence. Few have explicitly protested for the violation of the right to information, although this violation is an essential feature of the episode.

The comments of some journalists have confirmed that the perception of these violations is also limited within the category. Divergent opinions emerged on the risks journalists must accept to fulfill the duties of their profession. After the attack on Piervincenzi, some journalists have expressed the philosophy of peaceful living that is expressed in the question “what do you do it for?”, addressed to those who are subjected to intimidation and retaliation because of their work. Some have openly distanced themselves from the assaulted, arguing that those who go around pointing a camera and ask unwelcome questions to people who could react violently is not journalism, but performs quite another activity. The leaders of the category, as it was right and proper, supported the opposite with their public statements of solidarity. But on this question profound differences remain (…).

This excerpt is taken from the Report by “Ossigeno per l’Informazione ONLUS” titled “The Antithesis mafia information”, the result of the research conducted on behalf of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, on the theme: “The role of the organs of information in the relationship with mafia criminal associations or the like, in Italy, in the traditional settlement regions and in the central-northern regions, and abroad. Analysis of the role of investigative journalism for the purposes of awareness of the prevention and fight against organized crime of the mafia type and investigation into the possible collusive implications connected to journalistic and editorial activity”. Ossigeno presented the first results of the research in 2014 and presented them to the Commission in 2015. In January 2017, Ossigeno provided an update on the period 2015-2017.

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