Ros Belford was sued for remarking upon in the Rough Guide a greater tendency among restaurateurs in Agrigento, compared to the rest of Sicily, to perpetrate small scams.
Agrigento is beautiful. Woe betide saying that it is poor, that the Mafia has put down roots, that restaurateurs tend to take advantage of customers more than those of other cities. This is the case of Ros Belford, the British journalist who has been sued for defamation in print for having written these observations about the city of Agrigento in the international tourist guide Rough Guide, published in Italy by the publishers Feltrinelli of which she is in charge of the “Italian sector”.
The plaintiffs are the mayor of Agrigento, Lillo Firetto and the president of Confcommercio Sicilia, Francesco Picarella. Both accuse the author of the guide of damaging the image, the prestige and the reputation of the city and its community and reserve the right to ask for a substantial compensation for the alleged damages.
The journalist asked Ossigeno per l’Informazione for free legal assistance, which provides this service in collaboration with London’s Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) in cases of lawsuits that have a strategic value in order to make them understand how widespread and uncontested in Italy is the abuse of libel accusations for retaliatory or intimidating purposes against those who publish unwelcome information and opinions.
Certainly the tour guide did not use commendable words against the city of the Temples. “The government’s statistics indicate that Agrigento is one of the poorest cities in Italy – wrote Ros Belford – and it is not surprising to learn that Mafia-type attitudes are well rooted”. The journalist did not want to alarm tourists, stating that for them there is “no danger, only a greater tendency among restaurateurs, compared to the rest of Sicily, to perpetrate small scams”. She herself was a victim.
The administrators of the city, which is one of the main tourist destinations in Sicily, were concerned about the impact of those judgments and have decided to react in the most sensational way.
The representative of the businessmen’s association (Confcommercio) in a statement wrote that the opinions in the guide on the City of Temples would be “an offence to an entire community with excellent historical traditions and values, to honest traders, to those who believe in work, to those who have fought for years so that the good name of Sicily and of Agrigento in particular, were not necessarily accompanied by the word Mafia”.
The mayor Agrigento, Lillo Firetto, fully agreed with Confcommercio’s approach to protect the reputation of the city, asking the publishers to revise the text. The guide, according to the businessmen’s representative , also used “an offensive language, derived from racist stereotypes. In this way the cities, the tourist potential, the companies, the restaurants and the hotels of the territory are penalized”.
In Italy each year there are six thousand persons, mostly journalists, sued for publishing unwelcome news or opinions . Everyone must face a long and costly criminal trial, at the end of which 92 per cent are acquitted. Often the expenses have to be borne by the accused even after the judgement has absolved them.