This monthly review of acts of intimidation in Italy is produced by Ossigeno per l’Informazione for the European Centrr for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with the support of the European Union.
In 2015 521 Italian journalists and bloggers were victims of intimidation, threats and abuse because of their work and of which Ossigeno per l’Informazione gave the news after having established the validity of the information. In fact, according to the Observatory’s estimates, there were many more acts of intimidation of this sort: at least ten times more.
This confirms that, in Italy, the work of journalists who criticise those in power is still highly risky. The serious situation appears stable compared with the previous year: in 2014 Ossigeno registered 506 victims, with a 31 percent rise compared to 2013. Even in 2015 there were very serious incidents, some just in the last weeks of the year. In December 2015, Ossigeno has reported threats and acts of intimidation against 49 journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers, editors and publishers.
In December 2015 two Italian journalists, Alessia Candito and Michele Inserra, were threatened with death and now live under constant police protection. The same protection was proposed for two other journalists, Gisella Cicciò (La Gazzetta del Sud) and Rosaria Brancato (Tempostretto.it), who reported the development of a huge scandal involving 23 of the 40 councillors of Messina. According to data published by the newspaper La Repubblica in May 2015 there were already between 30 and 50 journalists protected by the police because of threats. The authorities do not provide any data on the matter.
These are the other most significant episodes detected and reported in December by the Observatory Ossigeno per l’Informazione.
Since December 16, every night, the police watch over the house of Alessia Candito, columnist for Corriere della Calabria. The journalist was threatened with a few emails. The same threats were addressed to the chief editor of her newspaper, Paolo Pollichieni. The threats come from a man who has abandoned the ‘Ndrangheta to collaborate with the courts, but then he did not comply with the protection program and has disappeared. He is currently wanted by the authorities. The man reacted with threats to the publication of two news articles about him. In the months before, Candito received similar threats, along with the chief editor of her newspaper.
Michele Inserra, chief editor of the newspaper Quotidiano della Calabria, has already suffered numerous threats in the region where he works, but it is the first time that he was granted police protection. As a representative of the Ministry of the Interior explained in Parliament, he recently received threats from members of the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian organized crime gang, when, in March, he traveled to Umbria to produce on behalf of Rai ( the public service broadcaster) a television report on mafia settlements in the regions of central Italy which consider themselves immune to this phenomenon.
In Messina (Sicily) there is concern for the safety of Gisella Cicciò and Rosaria Brancato, following their coverage of a scandal in which more than half the members of the city council of the city are being investigated. They received serious threats via web. For this reason the Order of Journalists and the FNSI (journalists’ union )have asked the prefect to protect them.
In Naples, the protection has also been invoked for the journalist Fabio Postiglione, editor of the newspaper Il Roma. From July to December, he suffered five serious acts of intimidation with damage to his car. The protection was sought by the Order of Journalists and the Union of Journalists of Campania Sugc, after the last episode: the night between 9 and 10 December in Naples someone punctured the wheels of the journalist’s carwith an awl.
In Rome the police is investigating to determine if, as it seems, the arson attack to the car of Dina Lauricella, destroyed by fire on December 8, in the capital, was an act of intimidation. The car was parked in the street. Lauricella is a Sicilian journalist who has followed the news in Palermo and covered at length the case of the collaborator with justice Vincenzo Scarantino, a mobster who, with his revelations, directed the magistrates to the prosecution of the alleged perpetrators of the massacre of July 17, 1992. On that date the judge Paolo Borsellino and the police officers who were escorting him were killed. The newspapers have dealt at length with Scarantino because his revelations which later proved to be false. Lauricella recently collaborated with some RAI TV shows.
In Trapani, the journalist Marco Bova is being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office for refusing to disclose the source of some information contained in an article published on ilfattoquotidiano.it on 30 September. When questioned as a person informed of the facts, Bova invoked the right to professional secrecy. The prosecutor argued that the law formally recognises this right only to professional journalists, i.e. members of the Order of Journalists who are registered exclusively as professionals.
The extension of this right is provided for by the draft law on libel filed in 2013 and already approved at its first reading in Parliament.
Threats and Sentences
The journalist Fausto Biloslavo, who has been repeatedly sent to report from war zones, has reported to the police headquarters in Trieste the publication on Facebook of intimidating messages against him, from circles linked to Islamic extremism. This was announced on December 8, 2015 by the newspaper Il Giornale. In the days before thepost appeared the reporter had published an exclusive about Luca Aleotti, an Italian convert to Islam, who sang the praises of Isis on Facebook and became the focus of judicial investigations.
The journalist Franco Viviano, from the daily La Repubblica, was considered by the Court of Lecce guilty of stealing “documents held in a public office” and was sentenced to one year in prison. In 2010, Viviano published an article with information on developments in the judicial investigation named RAI-Agcom, in which the then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was being questioned. The reporter received messages of solidarity from his newspaper, from the journalists’ union (FNSI), the Reporters Union and other colleagues.
A kind of intimidation that is very common in Italy is discrimination against journalists. In December there were three episodes which show how this practice is used in very different situations.
First. Twenty-eight writers and journalists have been included in a list, entitled “Zionist influence in the Italian media,” that appeared on the website of Radio Islam Italia. The list also includes university professors and entrepreneurs and recalls the anti-Semitic lists from times not yet too long ago. For this reason, the Rome prosecutor has opened an investigation against persons unknown for threats and defamation with the aggravating circumstance of racial hatred.
Second. In Italy it is not uncommon for a journalist who publishes unwelcome articles to be excluded from a press conference or a public event attended by other journalists without his own colleagues protesting. But things are beginning to change.
In Martina Franca, in the province of Taranto, on 6 December, the sports club which manages the Martina Franca 1947 football team, prevented Massimiliano Martucci, collaborator of the Nuovo Quotidiano di Puglia from participating in a press conference. The reason given was that he was of “destabilizing the team” with his critical articles. In protest, all other journalists left the meeting, derailing the club’s initiative.
Third. The other case of discrimination documented by the Observatory occurred on November 25 in Venice and concerns the journalist Vera Mantengoli, who works with the newspaper La Nuova Venezia. The reporter wanted to attend a meeting between the mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, and a union delegation of municipal employees, which took place in a public building. At the entrance, three policemen explained that, given that the meeting involved negotiations, the journalists could not participate. And because of orders from above, they also prevented her from waiting in the covered entrance to the building. This appeared to be a serious discourtesy with an evident motivation to deter. The Order of Journalists and the Union of the Veneto Region protested. The mayor did not accept Ossigeno’s invitation to close the incident with a public apology.
Libel and Lawsuits
The authors of a TV report about the sale of pharma drugs will be tried in March 2016 at the Court of Campobasso. Nadia Toffa, Marco Fubini and Luca Tiraboschi of the TV show Le Iene are accused of aggravated defamation through the televisual medium. In 2012 they were sued by the Federfama section of Molise (the association of owners of pharmacies) for an episode of their program broadcast in March 2012. The investigation described the difficulties encountered in pharmacies in the Molise region with the project which envisaged to equip every pharmacy with an electronic control system of the medicines prescribed by the national health system. The month after the show, Toffa and her crew were threatened by a representative of pharmacists.
In Rome, Andrea Pardi’s legal injunction accompanied by the threat of a libel suit was not accepted. Pardi, the manager of the Società Italiana Elicotteri public company, allegedly assaulted the journalist of the RAI show Report Giorgio Mottola on October 7, when he insisted on interviewing him. It is also alleged that he tried in every way to prevent the airing of an investigation by the television show on the international arms trade.
The December review also contains some good news. On 11 December the journalists Sigfrido Ranucci and Luca Chianca (RAI Report) were acquitted of libel charges on the grounds that “the offence does not exist.” In a TV survey on exporters of capital abroad, they had mistakenly included as one of the accused an entrepreneur from Benevento. They then corrected the wrong news spontaneously.
Giuseppe Perrotta, chief editor of the news outlet Noi Caserta, was acquitted of charges of attempted malfeasance through some news articles that described as „irregular practices“ the procedures followed by the local health agency of Caserta following the selection of some executives. The prosecutor had questioned more than forty articles and asked for a sentence of two years and six months imprisonment.
The journalists Ignazio De Luca and Marco Benanti, columnist and chief editor of the news website Iene Sicule, based on some interviews, questioned the election process of the Mayor of Catania, Enzo Bianco. Because of this judgment he had sued them for libel. The judge for the preliminary investigations has filed the lawsuit.
“Censorship under a mask. How to identify it, recognise it and fight it” is the title of the seminar organised on 16 and 17 December in Rome by Ossigeno per l’Informazione in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata. It was attended by over 650 journalists, 50 university students and 100 other people. Designed to train observers of violations of press freedom in how to apply the Ossigeno monitoring method of observation, it will be replicated in Italy and abroad. During the course cases of censorship under disguise in Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Greece and Denmark were presented.
On 11 December, in Pagani (in the province of Salerno), Ossigeno per l’Informazione was awarded the National Award for Responsible Citizenship 2015 named after Marcello Torre, the mayor of the town assassinated by the mafia in 1980. The award was received by the director Alberto Spampinato.
December in numbers
In December 2015, Ossigeno per l’Informazione reported threats and acts of intimidation against 49 journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers, chief editors and publishers.
The names of the victims are listed in Table 2015. The types of intimidation include: assault, damage, threatening letters, insults, threats on social networks, abuses of the law, subpoenas for damages, libel suits deemed specious, obstacles to information, discrimination and arbitrary exclusion, threatening letters, lawsuits for refusing to reveal the sources of news.
So far this year, the Intimidation Counter produced by Ossigeno has seen an increase of 521 units. 405 of these threats are carried out during the year, while a further 116 from previous years. The Counter has existed since 2006 and now marks 2666 entries. According to Ossigeno’s estimate, for every act of intimidation known and documented, there are at least ten others that remain unknown to the Observatory because the victims do not have the strength to make them public.