Defamation: supreme court wipes the slate clean after two prior sentences

The former chief editor of the La Repubblica Ezio Mauro and the political reporter Giovanna Vitale were acquitted fully and “without delay”. Read the sentence here

On the 5th June 2020, the Supreme Court acquitted the former chief editor of the newspaper La Repubblica Ezio Mauro and the journalist Giovanna Vitale from the charge of aggravated defamation in the press, who at first instance and on appeal, in the trials conducted in Rome, had been sentenced to severe penalties. The Supreme Court quashed those sentences “without postponement”, that is, without asking for a re-trial from scratch as happens in most cases.

The journalists, sued in 2013, were defended by the lawyer Paolo Mazzà, who asked that the peculiar characteristics of political information should be taken into account. Journalists were acquitted with full formula because “there is no evidence of an offence”.

THE PREVIOUS JUDGMENTS – Giovanna Vitale and Ezio Mauro were sentenced on the 1st February 2017 by the Court of Rome to pay a fine of 600 euro each and to pay provisionally the plaintiff, the engineer Valter Di Mario, € 3,000 plus € 5,000 for legal fees. On November 28th 2018, the Court of Appeal of Rome confirmed these sanctions and added an additional €2,000 in legal fees. Furthermore, the Appeal Court had shown itself to be more severe than the Court, revoking the benefit of the suspended sentence and the non-disclosure of the sentence in the criminal record of the author of the contested articles.

THE PETITION – The Advocate Paolo Mazzà challenged the sentence by relying on the “the absence and the illogical nature of the justification”, on the violation of the canons of the right to interview and on the violation of article 21 of the Constitution regarding the unlawful juxtaposition of different facts and on the disavowal of particular duties which require a reporter who deals with political events of public interest to report also opinions, judgments and criticisms whose veracity is impossible to ascertain as is done when evaluating objective facts and circumstances (read here his arguments). These arguments convinced the judges of the Supreme Court who cancelled “without postponement”, that is, they did not consider it necessary to ask for the appeal trial to be repeated, as they could have done.

THE DISPUTED ARTICLES – The trial arose after the publication of two articles signed by Giovanna Vitale in the Rome edition of the newspaper La Repubblica, the first entitled “Rome’s Rapid Transit Line: Last minute hires – five new consultants with maxi salaries “, the second with the title, ” Last minute appointments by Alemanno cancelled”, published on 22nd June 2013. The first article reported that a few days before the mayoral voting on the 9th -10th June, the outgoing mayor Gianni Alemanno, challenging Ignazio Marino, had authorized the Roma Metropolitane company controlled by the Municipality and in charge of building the subway Line C ) and had decided to hire five consultants without taking into account the negative opinion expressed five months earlier by the company’s chairman and board of statutory auditors. The second article instead reported that the new municipal council led by Ignazio Marino had revoked those five appointments.

THE COMPLAINANT – One of the five consultants, the engineer Valter Di Mario, considering himself defamed, had sued the journalist and the chief editor of La Repubblica and had his complaint upheld in the first and second instance, but not in the Supreme Court.

THE AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLES – Giovanna Vitale, correspondent for the newspaper La Repubblica, issued the following statement to Ossigeno: “I do not intend to comment on the judges’ decision. I let the judgement which is clear speak for itself. I only did my job and I think I did it correctly. Nevertheless it took seven long years and it took the Supreme Court to recognize it! With these articles I did my job as a political reporter in a particular, very heated political period, reporting real facts and framing them in their context. Isn’t that how it should be done? In 25 years working in this way I have had several other lawsuits. I have always had my newspaper by my side and in the end I have never been sentenced “.

ASP (wt)

Read here Why the rigor of truth is less rigorous in political information

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