Acquitted! Who pay legal fees for author of published articles sued for libel?
In Italy the indemnity of the company in favour of journalists is rarely applied – How to invoke it and make it always applicable – The case of Vanessa Valvo acquitted after 7 years
OSSIGENO March 1st 2022 – Vanessa Valvo, a freelance journalist accused of libel was acquitted after a trial lasting seven years (read). According to Ossigeno, from the very outset nothing from the journalist was reprehensible since the simple formal reference to the “Mafia Capital” investigation contained in her article at that time was simply the citation of a true and responsibly published fact, the correct exercise of the right of the press, considering the reverberations in that small community of the Rome investigation and the fact that the headquarters of a well-known local cooperative, a winner of public tenders and operating in the area on behalf of the Municipal Administration, appeared to be involved.
Ossigeno per l’informazione underlines the disproportionate, but not uncommon, length of the first-degree trial that has aggravated the accused’s burden of concern and anguish. But today satisfaction predominates with the outcome, with the final contrition of the parish priest who sued her for two obviously harmless articles written in exercising the right to report and criticize.
Ossigeno also expresses satisfaction with the fact that the newspaper “L’altomilanese” which published the articles bore the burden of the expenses attributed to the journalist who had signed the articles.
Initially, the story had generated some perplexities for Ossigeno precisely in that respect, which brings up again a problem that should be better regulated on a contractual and statutory level: that of the publisher’s responsibility to cover the legal costs of the authors of the articles it published. Many publishers do not accept this responsibility. Many journalists above all external collaborators, freelancers employed by publishing companies remain unprotected.
The problem is very serious. It has been identified for years, it has evidenced itself many times, it has been talked about but it is still unresolved. It continues to be postponed and in the meantime the regulatory vacuum is damaging an ever-higher percentage of journalists.
Few publishers in Italy bear the legal costs and any compensation payable by the author of an article published by them even though it was checked and validated by the professional staff appointed by the publisher to carry out this task. Obviously, anyone who assumes this responsibility reserves the right to retaliate against any writer who acted with wilful misconduct or bad faith.
Currently, this responsibility of the publisher is not provided for by law or by employment contracts, as should be necessary. The consequence is that many journalists (especially freelancers such as Vanessa Valvo and low-income reporters) when accused of defamation for what they have published, have to incur considerable defence costs and legal expenses out of their own pockets, even when they have been wrongly or spuriously accused from those who brandish lawsuits as weapons of intimidation. In many cases, at the end of the trial, these expenses remain the responsibility of the defendant even if he or she is acquitted.
This time, fortunately, it wasn’t like this, and the newspaper acknowledged it. This episode provides the opportunity to recommend to all journalists and especially freelancers to take precautions, pending more adequate explicit rules, by asking the newspapers that publish their articles, posts or other informative content, a written commitment to the payment of legal expenses incurred through proceedings against them arising from the publication of their content and where necessary by contacting the Ossigeno Free Legal Aid Office.
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