A wall to remember: Ossigeno honours journalists killed while doing their jobs

by Alberto Spampinato

Ossigeno per l'Informazione has created a wall panel showing the names, ages and faces of the 28 Italian journalists killed because of their work since 1960. It is asking schools, unions and institutions to host it on their premises, open to the public - so that their stories can be made timeless.

Giovanni Spampinato Giovanni Spampinato, Nov 1946-Oct 1972; the author's brother, he was killed over investigating the Mafia in Sicily. (Ossigeno panel photo)

Few people know that there have been so many, and few people (including journalists) remember or know their names at all, which are rarely listed. Even if an article is written about them, often there aren't enough lines to recall all their names.

Even fewer people are able to associate a face with each of these names. This is shocking. This is what happens in Italy, and what is likely to happen in many other places where journalists have been killed, where violence has been used merciless and victims are largely forgotten. We should prevent this from happening.

The memorial panel is why, from now on, I'll remember them, together with the year they perished.

Ignoring what happened fuels the very wrong, widely shared belief that these and other assassinations, threats and retaliation usually are the fault of the victims: their recklessness, the vanity that prompted them to show off, etc. Our silence feeds this fatalism and encourages those who think that self-censorship is a legitimate method to prevent threats and retaliation.

We must break the silence, we must invite everyone to know the names of these victims. We must help everyone to know the true story of the life and death of each of them.

Every victim is different from the others, of course; they all have different stories and personalities. It's important to remember those stories one by one, so that they can teach us one main thing: that the victims shared the purpose of the pursuit of the truth and the idea of journalism as a public service for citizens.

Putting a face - and a story - to a name

Cosimo Cristina was a brilliant journalist. Photographs from his day show his smiling face and 19th century-style beard. He was killed at the age of 24, on 5 May 1960.

The identity of the assassins remains a mystery. We only know that they threw his corpse under a train, which is why for many years it was easy to have people convinced that he had committed suicide.

Cosimo Cristina Cosimo Cristina, Aug 1935-May 1960 (Ossigeno panel photo)

At that time, the Mafia was becoming bloodier and far more merciless also in his peaceful town of Termini Imerese (50 km from Palermo), because of the rise of drug smuggling. Everybody was afraid to denounce it and pretended not to see what was happening. Cosimo, however, observed everything and reported it in the small newspaper he had founded.

Ten years later, on 16 September 1970, investigative reporter Mauro de Mauro was kidnapped as he was about to enter his home in Palermo. He had made many important inquiries and scoops on Mafia affairs, drug smuggling and competition between oil companies, among other dark matters.

Nobody has heard from him since. It’s largely believed that he was killed, and it is said that he was buried underneath a concrete pillar. The only certain thing is that his corpse was never found and still today, we don’t know who kidnapped him and why.

Two years later, in Sicily again, this time in Ragusa - a city of 60.000, 250 km south of Palermo - a young journalist named Giovanni Spampinato was killed. He was 25.  

The assassin killed Giovanni with six close range gun shots. His name and his face are known, because he turned himself in immediately, giving up the still warm guns and giving the police a motive that today is still unclear. He said: "His articles were a non-stop provocation, I had to kill him."

The killer was the son of a powerful magistrate. At the trial, the judges believed him, accepted the thesis that news stories can constitute a provocation. Because of this, they gave him a light sentence.

I know very well how things went, because Giovanni was my brother. Six months before his assassination, a mysterious murder occurred in Ragusa, which is still today unsolved. Giovanni simply revealed that the detectives had suspicions about the killer regarding this murder, and it was the truth.

Mauro de Mauro Mauro de Mauro, Sept 1921-Sept 1970 (Ossigenio panel photo)

Cosimo, Mauro and Giovanni where the first three journalists to be killed in Italy to silence unwelcome news after WWII. They had all worked for “L’Ora”, a combative Palermo-based newspaper.

After them, five more journalists were killed in Sicily: Peppino Impastato (1978), Mario Francese (1979), Pippo Fava (1984), Mauro Rostagno (1988), and Giuseppe Alfano (1993). All of them were killed because they had been investigating the Mafia.

Outside of Sicily, in Naples, the journalist Giancarlo Siani was killed at age 26, in 1985. His death was also the result of his interference with Mafia business.

In 1977, in Turin, Carlo Casalegno was executed by terrorists at the age of 61. He was deputy director of a big newspaper ("La Stampa"), and urged citizens not to yield to the blackmail of terror.

In 1980, in Milan, another terrorist organization gunned down journalist Walter Tobagi, who knew them well. He had studied them closely, speaking with their supporters, describing their sad gestures, the squallor of their ideological proclaims, the emptiness that surrounded them.

Meanwhile, other Italian journalists (also featured in the memorial panel) were being murdered outside their country.

Reporters Italo Toni and Graziella De Palo disappeared on the 2 September 1980, in Beirut, while guests of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Their end is still mysterious and shrouded in state secrecy. Fifteen more Italian reporters were killed while working abroad, because they didn't accept the pressure from military organisations and others to turn their articles into war bulletins.

Graziella de Palo Graziella de Palo, June 1956-Sept 1980 (Ossigeno panel photo)

There have also been Almerigo Glilz (1987), Guido Puletti (1993), Marco Luchetta (1994), Alessandro Ota (1994), Dario D’Angelo (1994), Ilaria Alpi (1994), Miran Hrovatin (1994), Gabriel Gruener (1999), Antonio Russo (2000), Maria Grazia Cutuli (2001), Raffaele Ciriello (2002), Enzo Baldoni (2004), Vittorio Arrigoni (2011), Andrea Rocchelli (2014), and Simone Camilli (2014).

Thus, from 1960 until today, 28 Italian reporters lost their lives because of trying to do their job freely. They did not die because of accidents, but because someone decided that they couldn't say what they knew, what they saw, what they understood.

We have done too little to spread the news.

These stories, in their whole, are a powerful instrument. They are a big symbol for freedom of the press all over the world, a historical heritage that society must preserve for the knowledge of future generations. It would not be wise to forget these moral and professional examples. It would not be wise to ignore the lesson that came from these journalists who highlighted the sins and flaws of power, and were killed in the process.

We must prevent the memory of facts from being forgotten and we must try to remember these facts collectively.

For these reasons, Ossigeno came up with the wall panel in memory of these names and faces, reunited under the following slogan:

They sought the truth. 28 names, one common history.”

Ossigeno has made the wall panel available for free to all public and private institutions - schools, newspapers and free press associations in particular - and asked them to show it in their offices and public buildings. By doing so, we hope to foster debate about this issue. 

Copies of this memorial panel were given to the President of the Italy, the President of the Senate, the Italian National Press Association, the Italian Order of Journalists, 20 different schools, and a number of city mayors. More will be delivered in the next months.

Maria Grazia Cutuli Maria Grazia Cutuli, Oct 1962-Nov 2011 (Ossigeno panel photo)

This attempt to turn the attention of the public to the most dramatic ways of media conditioning has been highly appreciated, along with the attempt to help everybody - starting from students - understand and remember a past that, unfortunately, keeps repeating itself. It's important to know that, every year, violence against journalists creates thousands of freedom of press violations in Italy and dozens of murders all over the world.

In fact, according to a UNESCO article from 2012, more than 600 media employees had lost their lives while doing their jobs over the previous decade.

It's important to know that these violations to freedom of the press are greatly numerous and spread all over. Whether critical or moderate threats, they all must be publicly denounced and addressed vigorously.

This memorial panel invites all of us to ponder this. It helps us recover memories and understand that there is a language much more convincing to tackle the attempts to limit or stop freedom of the press: the language of history and facts.

Alberto Spampinato is a veteran political journalist and founder of Ossigeno per l’Informazione (O2), ECPMF's Italian partner organisation. He created the center in 2008, after his brother Giovanni's murder over journalistic investigations into the Mafia.

Full Ossigenio panel The full memorial panel for the 28 Italian journalists killed in action since 1960. (Image courtesy of Ossigenio)

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