Interview with Klaus Davi: “Calabria is a gold mine and only I am digging”

This article first appeared on the website of ECPMF's partner Ossigeno per l'informazione, edited by Jessica Jacques, ECPMF 

Klaus Davi is a renowned journalist and media expert in Italy. ECPMF’s partner Ossigeno per l’informazione has interviewed him about his work in the mafia hotspot and home of the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria, Southern Italy.

Klaus Davi Klaus Davi, journalist in mafia hotspot Calabria

“Calabria is a fascinating and intriguing region. It is one of the poorest areas in Italy, but has the 'richest' organized crime in the world. This contrast shows a blatant failure of the state. Here the State fails daily. The newspapers don't write about it, and not because of the local journalists. They do their job well. Evidently the political and editorial system has no interest in admitting it … “.

Klaus Davi is a 52 years old renowned Italian journalist and media expert. He was born in Switzerland to Italian parents and raised in Germany. Since 2014 he is reporting from Calabria. Ossigeno per l'informazione interviewed him about the aggressions, warnings and threats he suffers there to today, since he began to complete and spread his journalistic investigations on television. His work is in many ways original, moving around the territory to explore and highlight this great contradiction. Davi, observing things, listens and talks to everyone, he also gives a voice to people tied to the ‘Ndrine (clans) and attends their meetings. This close interaction above all challenges the pretence of the ‘Ndrangheta which attempts to remove itself from the limelight. Davi’s observations show unseen aspects, revealing that the scale of ‘clan values’, their unshakeable principles and their own family relationships are less solid and unshakeable than believed.

On the role of the government in fighting the mafia, Davi says, “politics seem absent in Calabria. And yet, here the state has changed its attitude. For some years it made a strong change in direction of the judicial ‘machine’: in 2008, with the appointment of Giuseppe Pignatone as head of the Procurator’s Office of the Republic of Reggio Calabria and then of his successor, Federico Cafiero De Raho and, finally, placing Nicola Gratteri at the head of the Procurator’s Office of Catanzaro. But all this is not enough: the state cannot only be placed as a power capable of arresting the clan chiefs and seizing their goods. It must also construct something.” In the face of all this, Davi wonders what MPs from Calabria are doing.

When asked what his enquiries explain and contribute to the discourse, Davi says, “I’m not an anti-mafia journalist and I’m a slightly unconventional one at that.” He defines himself as a communicator who has learned how to talk to a big audience through television. “A communicator,” he says, “does not say what has been said in court proceedings or how a trial is over but talks about these things, contextualises them and comments on them, so that he can talk to the masses and rouse emotions, which the work of a classic reporter cannot do. I learned the popular language on television, thanks to the teachings of Massimo Giletti.”

He adds, “I began having an interest in Calabria using this approach since 2015, since I discovered that this region, with its passions and contradictions, is a real gold mine for me, where no one tries to dig like I do”.

Since then, with his television reports aired on the web and on small local broadcasters, Davi describes Calabria – and the ‘Ndrangheta – as he sees it, how he has been able to get to know it, by moving around the territory and meeting the people who live there. He chooses the interlocutors, his colleague turns on the camera, and he poses clear, legitimate questions. However, many in this territory are considered unimportant, ineligible, a sign of lack of respect. That’s why he has been attacked, received insults and been intimidated and threatened. The prosecutor De Raho is investigating the incidences. It is necessary to protect him, the prosecutor said. The prefecture offered him a security detail that will be next to him whenever he makes a justified request. Davi thanked him, but as all journalists do, who do not notice the imminent danger, he often did not ask for law enforcement protection because it would have created a barrier between him and the people he wanted to make contact with.

Davi repeats that, “In my work, explanation of judicial affairs is not important, is merely a side note. The themes I try to tackle, along with my colleague and co-author Alberto Micelotta, are different to the classic ones dealt with by journalists who deal with court records. For example I am interested in lifestyles, private behaviour, relations between the family members of the mafiosi, their attitude to issues such as paedophilia and homosexuality, the reactions, the matrimonial betrayals, and so on. Most of these things have no criminal significance, but they have a strong media impact.”

Mr. Davi, when did you decide to deal with the case of the ‘Ndrangheta?

In 2015, when I interviewed the Calabrian magistrate Giancarlo Giusti, who was tried three years earlier, accused of being corrupted by the ‘Ndrangheta which had relocated to Milan, and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment. I interviewed him and that was the last interview he granted. A month later he committed suicide. In those months I had a close correspondence with him. For me his suicide was a shock, it made me think about many things he had spoken to me about and which had opened my eyes, as I wrote on the very day of his death.

How do you adjust to the threats you receive?

I register them and keep on going. If you think too much about it, you cannot do this type of work anymore.

The first time your work as communicator triggered violent, threatening reactions, did you change your approach? And did you expect it?

First of all, I do not consider the threatening expressions some people resort to on social networks to be threats from the ‘Ndrangheta. That style is not that of the ‘Ndrangheta. Those insults on Facebook come from neighbourhoods close to the ‘Ndrangheta, the so-called “loose dogs”: little boys, children and grandchildren of people connected to the ‘Ndrine.

But didn’t you suffer from real attacks?

Yes, if we are talking about the attack in Vibo Valentia. Yes, that one was an attack from the ‘Ndrangheta by two members of the clan. But I must be honest: those two did not want to attack me, my person. They wanted to break my camera. I defended the camera and therefore they hit me. But I was not their goal. They wanted to stop us taking footage. For that incident, two people were be put on trial at the Court of Vibo, but the trial has not yet begun.

What does that event mean for you?

It happened in the public square, in front of dozens of people. They gave a signal. They made it clear that my way of working is not welcome. The ‘Ndrangheta and its members insist on and achieve treatment by everyone with great respect, and are not observed closely. According to the code of the ‘Ndrangheta, whoever goes to the home of “one of them” and rings the bell without being invited, as I did, lacks respect, and intrudes into an inviolable space. My transgression of the rules bothered many people, but not the act itself.

They made you understand that you must also consider certain public spaces to be inviolable…

Yes, because the ‘Ndrangheta occupies the entire territory. As I said, in Vibo Valentia I was attacked in the square, the public place par excellence. They made me understand that they regard bars, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other commercial spaces used to control the territory in a detailed manner, as equally inviolable. Of course, there are areas more or less penetrated by mafia interests. Not all of Reggio Calabria is controlled at the highest level, but the most part it is.

You were threatened in a bar. Why? What did you do?

Nothing, actually. But in certain bars former convicts come and go as they please, they talk to each other, exchange information. I sat down there and looked and listened, focused on reading my papers. In another area nobody would have said anything. In Calabria, however, this bothers people. That’s how it is there, so much so that they told me not to go back to that bar again.

On top of attacks, insults on social networks, you have received complaints about defamation that appear rather specious. The mafiosi live outside the law but turn to the law to protect their reputation. What do you think about this?

Somehow they would like to show that, actually, the person doing something illegal is you, the one trying to explain what’s happening. It is also a way to discourage you, to punish you by forcing you to spend money, to weaken you economically, as Ossigeno explains quite well.

How do the Calabrian people view you? How do they see this strange journalist who goes around annoying people? Did you ever ask yourself this question?
Yes, of course. At first they thought I was crazy. Today, they are coming round. I get letters from people telling me their story. I receive testimonies from strangers to the ‘Ndrangheta as well as from clan members who express dissent from their leaders, from within their families. These people contact us; they give us information from within their clan. We have already done two or three interviews with these people. It gives me great satisfaction. Obviously we are very careful about these things, because the risk of being exploited is just around the corner. The testimonies of family members of the ‘Ndrangheta, who say their name, who speak clearly, who make names and surnames, are very interesting. Obviously, in order not to kill them, in our television services we do not say their names and we do not put them in context: we have their words dubbed by others.

What does it mean that these people turn to you?

It means that the people are starting to warm up to us. It is an important signal. What is currently missing from our appeal is civil society, the real one. And it is also our own fault, journalists’ fault.


Because we are far away from the people. Because most people consider journalists negatively, they consider them to be like cops, disloyal, unprincipled. These are unjust judgments, I know, but that’s the way it is. We must succeed in changing this perception.

Can civil society do something?

Civil society in Calabria does not exist. Let’s leave aside for a moment those who should oppose the mafia. Let’s focus on the deaths by cancer due to the dumping of toxic waste. Not even in the face of these things has there been a civil society capable of reacting. People die and no one says anything: there is no association that intervenes.

Do you remember an event that frightened you so much to make you think about quitting?

No, never! Once, a person, always at the usual bar I go to and where I met clan people, told me: if you knew how deep the sea is, you would not do the things you do. I remember it well.

Does the RAI, the public broadcasting service, do its part well?

Absolutely not. It is completely absent; it does not play its role, neither from a humane point of view, nor regarding its presence, not even at the editorial level. The lack of support from the public broadcaster makes the work of journalists like me much more dangerous. RAI is doing well to make room for the commemoration of journalists killed because it is fair to remember them and pass on their memory to young people, but it is also necessary to think about the lives of journalists today, those who might die for the same reasons. I believe that the public service could be extremely useful in extending more protection, much more important than the DIGOS (special police units) can. In my opinion, the public service, which is so insensitive to this issue, will be responsible if something happens to journalists. Obviously the regional office of RAI has to be excluded from this subject; it has always been on the frontline of the battle to talk about organized crime.

Do you think that your fellow journalists who report on local news can do more?

There are Calabrian reporters who pay a very high price for their work, such as, for example, Michele Albanese. There are other journalists who pay for their commitment with their freedom. But there are many others who act quite differently.

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