Bottled mineral water company asks for €1,5 million damages from a small newspaper

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Why Ossigeno is defending  Il Fatto Alimentare in a lawsuit brought in Venice by the San Benedetto – The intimidatory nature  of the litigation

OSSIGENO 8th March 2024 – Ossigeno per l’Informazione, in cooperation with Media Defence, has accepted the request of the journalist Roberto La Pira, chief editor of the online newsletter Il Fatto Alimentare, to participate in the legal team that is defending him and his newspaper in the lawsuit with which the San Benedetto mineral water company is demanding €1.5 million in damages from him. The alleged damage was apparently caused by two articles that described how and why the company modified a television commercial starring Elisabetta Canalis.

Ossigeno accepted Il Fatto Alimentare‘s invitation. Therefore the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro, coordinator of Ossigeno‘s Legal Desk, joined the newspaper’s defence team together with lawyers Paolo Martinello and Marco Stucchi of the Milan Bar who are historically the defence counsel of the newspaper and who had already victoriously dealt with the urgent precautionary phase in which San Benedetto had requested, but not obtained, the blackout of the articles.

Ossigeno intervenes alongside Il Fatto Alimentare because it believes that this case offers a strategically important opportunity to make people understand that freedom of expression and the critical role of newspapers must be protected in Italy against  serious entanglements and legal actions.

The intimidatory nature  of the litigation is already evident from the enormity of the compensation requested from a small publishing company without, inter alia,  the company even providing precise and detailed documentation of the alleged damage.

The case is taking place before the Court of Venice and began a few months ago. The mandatory mediation procedure ended without a positive outcome. The next hearing is set for March 21st  2024. La Pira’s lawyers have asked the Court to reject the request for compensation and to condemn San Benedetto for reckless litigation.

THE FACTS – The two  articles from which the legal action arises are those which reported on some criticism  which led the company to modify a television commercial advertising San Benedetto mineral water. The commercial features the actress Elisabetta Canalis.

The commercial begins with images of her waking up in the morning, then the scene continues by showing Canalis, realizing that she had burnt the slices of bread  in the toaster, deciding to go out without having had breakfast and taking with her a bottle of San Benedetto mineral water. A report sent by third parties to the Advertising Self-Regulation Institute (IAP) disputes the appropriateness  of this original version of the commercial since the images would suggest with a subliminal message that mineral water could  replace breakfast, with negative impact on the nutritional education and on consumer health. The IAP upheld this objection. Il Fatto Alimentare asked the IAP for clarification which responded by communicating that San Benedetto had undertaken to “produce  a new commercial that would overcome the critical aspects identified”. Subsequently the company actually respected its commitment. It did this by cutting out the first 15 seconds of the commercial thus eliminating the criticized portion.

According to San Benedetto, the two articles in Il Fatto Alimentare published in August and October 2022, those which recounted this little episode, caused it enormous damage, estimated at 1.5 million euro.

The newspaper objects that these articles under accusation (which can still be read on its site) do not constitute fake news, do not insult, do not denigrate, are a succinct and balanced account of the facts, and were not published by a newspaper that can boast of millions of readers . The articles  explain how, following the findings by the Advertising Self-Regulation Institute , the company voluntarily decided to suspend the original advertising commercial and modify it.

Seven months after the publication of the articles, San Benedetto sued Il Fatto Alimentare, asking the Venice court to withdraw the articles. In August 2023 the judge rejected the request. After this negative response, the company filed a new appeal which, in October 2023, was also rejected.

As if that were not enough, San Benedetto initiated, in parallel with the emergency precautionary procedure for the blacking out of the articles, a civil lawsuit against Il Fatto Alimentare for damages from the alleged defamation requesting compensation of 1.5 million euro.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione believes that this type of lawsuit, regardless of its basis, has, due alone to the enormity of the amount requested, a chilling effect on freedom of expression and informative journalism in general and in particular on the newspaper involved. Why?

Many are unaware, but simply because the amount of damages requested is 1.5 million euro, Il Fatto Alimentare has to budget for huge legal expenses, since the law requires an obligatory fee scale to be applied which entails legal fees  proportional to the amount of damages and thus very high costs, difficult for a small publishing company like Il Fatto Alimentare to bear.

On 6th December 2023, participating in a conference promoted by Ossigeno, Roberto La Pira candidly recounted these difficulties. ASP

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