Commemorating Giuseppe Fava, Italian journalist and mentor in critical consciousness

Sarah Vantorre studied the filmic, theatrical and literary works and the political and social action of the journalist killed in Catania in 1984 and wrote this article for the Ossigeno website – They were looking for truth

OSSIGENO 28 January 2022 – By Sarah Vantorre

Truthful journalism can prevent a lot of corruption, restrain violence and crime, speed up indispensable public works, demand the proper functioning of social services, keep law enforcement on the alert, claim the constant attention of justice, and impose good practice on politicians. A newspaper incapable of doing this makes itself responsible for human lives. […] A journalist incapable of the truth – through cowardice or calculation – has on their conscience all the human grief they could have avoided, all the sufferings, all the abuse of power, all the corruption, all the violence they have not been capable of fighting; their very own failure! […] Where there is truth, justice can be done and freedom can be defended! (From: Giuseppe Fava, Giornale del Sud, 11 October 1981)

Giuseppe Fava wrote these famous words on 11 October 1981, in Lo spirito di un giornale, an article that could be considered the manifesto of his ethical conception of journalism. The article marked the culmination of years of struggle against a monopolistic and collusive media system in which the private interests of the proprietors prevailed over the journalistic freedom and the freedom of speech of their employees. Fava called for journalism to be an active, bold and open participant in Sicilian society rather than a mouthpiece for its most powerful representatives and for it to accept responsibility for assuming such a role.

Even though he wrote the article more than forty years ago, its content is not and must never be outdated. It still reminds us that an explicit engagement to protect the fourth estate is relevant and important even in European countries with strong democratic constitutions. The article explains that, despite journalists’ ethical responsibility towards the truth, it is important to recognise the many external pressures under which they operate even today. Fava’s quote suggests that knowing the truth – either as a journalist or as any other human being – implies a heavy responsibility, a duty of transformative action upon the witnessed or documented reality. Consequently, remaining passive in the face of the truth could be regarded as a form of complicity in the continuation of suffering, oppression and social injustice.

Throughout his journalism career, and especially as the chief editor of Giornale del Sud and I Siciliani, Fava made journalism history. His talent, social intelligence, vision and style set an incredibly high standard, which makes him an unparalleled example which continues to inspire many journalists to this very day. Fava’s commitment to journalism was continued in the first place by his editorial team, by a group of young journalists of his children’s generation who in turn inspired and mentored the even younger generations of journalists. Several anti-mafia news sites still contain references and tributes to Fava’s socially engaged investigative journalism.

And yet, many of the truths that Fava unveiled and made part of the public discourse could not be contained in strictly journalistic terms alone. In order to grasp and to render the human condition behind the ills of his society, Fava documented reality through many more creative channels. His essays, novels, theatre plays, film and paintings still offer useful tools with which to read, unveil and understand reality itself and to engage in an act of critical inquiry. They stimulate readers to have the courage to confront their own internal oppressors, to fight their own and their fellow citizens’ resignation and inaction at the dehumanising and unjust social order within their contextual reality. They offer emancipatory keys to become critically aware of the causes and consequences of the mafia phenomenon and of one’s individual responsibility to actively contribute to changing the course of history.

In this way, Fava has catalysed critical consciousness and hope in Catania and Sicily, from which contemporary forms of upstream anti-mafia engagement have ensued. They could inspire contemporary readers outside Sicily to write a hopeful counter-narrative as well.

Ten years ago, reading Fava’s journalism articles, novels and theatre plays for the first time, made me – a young doctoral student from Antwerp – much more susceptible to those social dynamics that undermine democracy and freedom in contemporary Belgian society and in my home town. It made me more aware of the way in which, for decades, civil society and the political classes had been failing to adequately invest in social cohesion. This resulted in young people destructively resisting the society into which they were born but where they had never felt truly heard, accepted, recognised, respected or supported.

Giuseppe Fava’s oeuvre taught me the true meaning, necessity and impact of “social anti-mafia” commitment. Through his works I understood that civil society not only has the duty to fight organised crime, it also has the duty to look critically at the problems in their contextual reality, to introspect, to dare to see the human reality and dramatic stories behind the crime statistics. Moreover, it therefore has the duty to invest in social justice, social cohesion, employment and the prevention of early school leaving. These can be truly powerful weapons against criminal organisations preying on the misery and despair of others. “Where there is truth, justice can be done and freedom can be defended”… 

No initiative of our association goes by without my being reminded of and feeling supported by one of the many wisdoms and insights Giuseppe Fava passed on through his writings. I will, for that reason, always be grateful for having met Elena Fava, his daughter, who helped me discover the different facets of Fava’s oeuvre. I wish the same for so many others. It is therefore of such great social value that Fava’s family, through the Fava Foundation, continues to work on making his works and archive accessible to the general public.

According to Francesca Andreozzi, Fava’s granddaughter and now the president of the Fava Foundation, “Giuseppe Fava’s humanity as well as the motive behind and the violence of his killing, made his death not only a terrible personal loss for his family but also a collective loss for society. Therefore, his heritage should be collective as well. It consists of his writings, but also of his inquisitive spirit of scrutiny, the lens through which he looked at society and Sicily, which his readers are free to adopt or not.”

Francesca herself has followed Fava’s example, not by becoming a journalist but by finding her own authentic way to use her talent to contribute to the collective interest, to a greater social justice and to protecting the common good. And that is the message she wants to convey, whether in her daily activity as a therapist for socially vulnerable youth or in her capacity as president of the Fava Foundation: “Everything you will do in life depends on your personal choices”. Every single individual in society has to pursue and acquire freedom individually, actively and responsibly.

This brings us back to Fava’s Lo spirito di un giornale. His ethical conception of journalism coincided with his ethical conception of life. Those citizens to whom Fava most directly communicated his views on what it truly meant to live in freedom and dignity were the age of his children and even younger. They were the ones to whom he directed his most passionate speeches. He involved them in his own journalism projects, for they were the only ones in whom he still found that inner freedom which he considered necessary for his society to fight the mafia phenomenon. We, the generation of his grandchildren, and many generations to come, can find a mentor in Fava as well, not only in journalism but also – and most importantly – in life, in human dignity and in inner freedom.

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