8th May How to protect journalists? An assessment in the Rome town hall

First results of the Ossigeno-Agcom seminar, under the patronage of UNESCO in collaboration with the NGO Lazio, attended by 220 journalists.

Great attendance, national and international guests who made their precious and expert contributions to the seminar and the shared intention to modify the present legislation, by now anachronistic, regarding defamation and to protect journalists and the market for information. The outcome of the conference, “Transparency and liberty of information in a state of law. Threatened journalists and protection systems” organised by Ossigeno per l’Informazione and by Agcom under the patronage of UNESCO and in collaboration with the Lazio Journalists Association, is more than positive.

The event took place in the Protomoteca of the Rome town hall on the 8th May on the occasion of the World Day for Press Freedom. Three hundred persons attended of which 220 were registered journalists thereby gaining continuous professional development credits. In the audience there were numerous university students and experts from the publishing and information sectors. Among the guests were: the president of the Lazio Order of Journalists, Paola Spadari; the president of FNSI, Giuseppe Giuletti; the ambassador Fabrizio Petri, president of the interministerial committee for human rights; the secretary and the president of Rome Press Association, Lazzaro Pappagallo and Alessandra Rotolo.

After the video message from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Gutteres, the proceedings were opened by the president of the Senate, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati followed by a contribution from the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi and from the president of Agcom (the communications watchdog) Marcello Angelo Cardani.

The three representatives of the institutions underlined the importance of the freedom of the press and of information as oxygen for democracy. They re-emphasised the importance of protecting journalists from various sorts of threats and the necessity of reforming a law by now no longer keeping up with the times.

“In Italy we have outdated laws and in some cases useless” the president of the Senate, Casellati said.

Taking into account the Constitution which crystallises a fundamental principle through Article 21 – dedicated specifically to the freedom of expression – there is no doubt that the current legislation is showing its age and the incapacity of adhering to the text in a reality in continual transformation. Not only regarding information via the web but also the traditional type.” The president repeated the necessity of “giving oxygen to accurate information and this will be able to be done through the support of many courageous journalists.”

The mayor Raggi who considered Ossigeno’s data on threatened journalists “impressive” said that, “Our task is to try to remove all the barriers and obstacles in the path of this civilising process but also to stand alongside and not abandon journalists who risk daily to seek the truth and assert legality”.

Cardani and other speakers underlined the problem of “economic threats” which are translated into unstable jobs and which weaken journalists and make rejuvenation of the sector difficult. Giovanni Salvi, Procurator General at the Court of Appeal in Rome spoke of insecure employment, the necessity of reforms and the role of magistrates in protecting journalists. He said, “It is necessary to accompany the so-called media escort with “a civil escort” of public opinion both to break the isolation of whoever is under attack and to cultivate the memory of the victims, to defend them from denigration and from the risk of being forgotten.

Mehdi Benchelah, UNESCO representative and a previous guest of Ossigeno participated to encourage the collaboration between Ossigeno and Agcom and repeated the willingness of UNESCO to support this alliance. Benchelah explained that UNESCO, better known for its activity in the sectors of culture and education, received in 2012 the mandate from the General Assembly of the United Nations to monitor the situation of journalists in the world. The latest report shows that “92% of journalists killed were not war correspondents but local reporters who conducted investigations in their own area which they knew and lived in.”

The first session concluded with the contributions from representatives of the two seminar organisers; Marco Delmastro, director of Agcom and Alberto Spampinato, president of Ossigeno per l’Informazione. Both confirmed their intention to continue this collaboration with the involvement of all those interesting in getting together to propose concrete solutions. Delmastro, in illustrating the data from the Agcom Observatory underlined the importance of reporting these phenomena of which too little is still spoken and he spoke of the chilling effect that physical and legal threats have on journalists. Spampinato illustrated the data of the Ossigeno Observatory which since 2008 verifies and records attacks harming information workers. The Ossigeno and Agcom data are compatible. “What Ossigeno has done is the most advanced experiment in Europe and has not been replicated in any other country” the president said. “In Italy every day there are unjustifiable attacks upon journalists. What we have to face up to is that it is not an emergency as some believe, but a permanent problem. Observing and documenting continually and promptly these attacks do not serve only to compile statistics. Active monitoring is the first and most important protection measure.”

The second part of the morning was devoted to a round table on the theme, “Information about organised crime: risks to journalists and protection systems”. The debate was moderated by Prof. Mario Morcellini, Agcom commissioner, who repeated the importance of forming alliances to confront the problem of threats to journalists. “I would like if we were to leave this room with two or three words able to encapsulate a new positive civic energy” who then gave the floor to other speakers. Federica Angeli, a journalist of La Repubblica under police protection and Paolo Borrometi president of Article 21 and also under police protection because of death threats due to his investigations. Both described their experiences and the necessity to recognise the mafia as such in order to be able to confront it and defeat it.

Among the speakers there was also Corinne Vella, the sister of Daphne Caruanna Galizia, the investigative Maltese journalist killed in October 2017. Vella described who her sister was, the difficulties she had to face in her work, obstructed by the institutions who had attempted to silence her with a great number of lawsuits. Vella said that “The responsibility to protect a journalist first and last falls upon the State which has the precise obligation to protect rights, among which the right to life and the right to know”. She proposed solutions to improve the conditions of reporters and hoped that other systems of monitoring similar to Ossigeno’s would begin.

The director general of Fieg (the Italian federation of newspaper publishers) Fabrizio Carotti thanked Ossigeno for its “tenacity and perseverance” and invited associations, institutions and authorities to act in a coordinated way to obtain the shared measures for the protection of journalists, agreeing on a road map and with an update on the situation every two months.

Winding up the discussion was entrusted to Ricardo Gutierrez secretary general of the European Federation of Journalists and to Carlo Verna president of the national journalists order. Gutierrez illustrated the data from the Council of Europe’s platform for the safety of journalists and highlighted three critical areas of the current day profession, insecure employment, the power of the social media and political interference. Carlo Verna asked the institutions to intervene to side-line the moral threats to journalists represented in the first place by threatening lawsuits. Then he identified two guiding verbs for the sector; always “construct” and “be present”.

Commissario Morcellini concluded by saying “Thanks for existing, Ossigeno” after having announced that there had just been an attack on the journalist Nello Trocchia and the team from Nemo (Rai2) by the Casamonica clan. The audience responded with loud applause in solidarity with those attacked.

The seminar in the Rome town hall was part of Ossigeno’s programme to celebrate the United Nations World Press Freedom Day. The celebrations began on the 3rd May at Rome’s House of Jazz alongside the memorial stone with the names of 900 innocent victims of the mafia and the memorial plaque with the 28 faces and names of journalists killed because of their work. (Read here). The ceremony of the 3rd May and the conference of the 8th May were organised by Ossigeno and Agcom. The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, in a video message sent to Ossigeno, described this collaboration between an NGO and a national public institution as important and hoped that it could develop into other forms of collaboration.


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