For the Council of Europe: 29 journalists in Italy threatened in 5 years

This is the number of alerts on the Council’s Platform, 65 times fewer episodes than Ossigeno and 8 times fewer than those of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

OSSIGENO PER L‘INFORMAZIONE

Number of threats to journalists in Italy reported by different sources

SOURCE

YEAR

 

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2015-19

Ratio

CoE Platform

2

3

4

13

7

29

1

Italian Interior Ministry

0

0

0

79

78

157

8

Ossigeno

528

412

423

270

253

1886

65

On the 28th January 2020 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved by a large majority a Resolution with which it launched an alarm regarding the serious deterioration of press freedom in many countries, due to a hail of threats and intimidation to newspapers and journalists and measures that limit the exercise of the journalist profession and consequently restrict freedom in the field of information and public discussion. The approved document calls, therefore, on the governments of the 47 member countries to do more, much more, to protect the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists in each country.

This strong stance adds to the other fervent alarms launched in recent years by other equally authoritative international organizations (UN, UNESCO, OSCE, European Parliament). These alarms, however, have not produced the desired results. They have fallen on deaf ears.

Fortunately, this latest position taken by the Council of Europe is less vague and generic than the previous ones. It leverages, as is necessary to be credible and convincing, on some incontrovertible facts: on the large number of intimidations, threats and other serious violations of the right to information identified precisely by independent observers on behalf of the Council of Europe itself from 2015 to 2019.

On a methodological level this is a great step forward. In fact, it is necessary to systematically use the data as convincing arguments if the astonishing immobility of governments of all orientations and at all latitudes is to be overcome.

Ossigeno was established in Italy in 2008 from the decision to use these evidence-based arguments. Back then denial reigned unchallenged. Ossigeno’s data put an end to that era. This experience demonstrated that enhanced effective persuasion can be given to words, documents, appeals in defence of journalists who suffer intimidation, threats and aggressions, by cross-referencing these indicators identifying the names of the victims, the perpetrators of the violations and the circumstances of the attacks, describing the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the phenomenon, in each individual context.

But why is this way of defining the problem not used everywhere? It is because to put it into practice credible, verified, irrefutable data is necessary and this implies that somebody compiles the evidence and makes it available to everyone. Ten years ago Ossigeno began to assemble these data for Italy on its own since no one else did it. For reasons that are still difficult to understand, Ossigeno is still the sole and exclusive compiler, the one to which everyone refers, even the Communications Authority watchdog, and it is also the object of those who in maintaining a negative attitude continually seek to discredit Ossigeno together with its data. This is dispiriting because Ossigeno produces objective, exhaustive, reliable data with a methodical system of monitoring and publishing violations that is now recognised (see here). This method has been tested and refined year after year. It has proven to be very effective, both for obtaining data that cannot be found from a superficial glance or simply browsing existing publications, and for discarding false positives, those deceptive data that make persecutors appear as victims or vice versa. The Ossigeno method has also proven effective in disturbing political lethargy and promoting solidarity with the victims.

In other words, the monitoring of Ossigeno is a unique pioneering experience in this field which already accomplishes in Italy what the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has explicitly proposed to do in each country, with its Recommendations of the 13th April 2016 (see here). The Italian observatory has described over four thousand violations. It did this using the admittedly expensive tools of investigative journalism, observing reality independently (even at the cost of misunderstandings and antagonism) and publicly accounting for it unequivocally and without omissions (at the cost of further antipathy).

Instead, it seems that the Council of Europe, despite the good intentions and large numbers mentioned in the resolution approved on January 28th in Strasbourg, is still not in a position to meet these needs.

The data cited in the report of Lord George Foulkes of the Commission for Culture, Science, Education and the Media that led to the approval of the document demonstrate that the Council of Europe still has limited knowledge of what actually happens in reality in its member countries and, therefore, above all it should do better and more.

The discrepancy arises from the fact that the Council of Europe describes the phenomenon of intimidation and threats to journalists exclusively on the basis of the alerts published in its “Platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists” (read here), the public space it set up five years ago, precisely for the purpose of recording the most serious violations that occur in the 47 member countries and to ask the competent governments for an explanation of them. The problem is that this important Platform collects little information and publishes few reports, far fewer than those collected by other NGOs. It would be interesting to know why; perhaps because this monitoring is the product the voluntary work of 14 specially accredited associations that have prestige but few professional resources to devote to this task and therefore they carry it out as best they can. Under these conditions, in five years, these 14 organizations (see here who they are) have published 669 alerts on the Platform (there were 638 until 25 Nov 2019) relating to 32 of the 47 countries of the Council of Europe. Of these, 29 relate to Italy and 20 for the 2018-2019 two-year period). The omission from the Platform of the Council of Europe of what has happened in Italy in the last five years is breath-taking and is evident from the comparison of their data with those produced by other reliable sources. See the table summarizing the situation.

For the 2018-2019 two-year period, the Italian Ministry of the Interior recorded 157 intimidations and threats committed in Italy against journalists, that is eight times as many.

In the same two-year period, “Ossigeno per l’Informazione has identified 533 incidents (26 times more than the Platform). While for the entire five-year period 2015-2019 Ossigeno identified 1886 violations committed in Italy (65 times more than the 29 published on the Platform.

The disparity relating to Italy represents a chasm and is even wider if one considers the quality of the reports. The 29 alerts on the Platform for Italy do not include shocking Italian incidents such as: 1) in 2019 the shooting at the journalist Mario De Michele (the most serious attack on a journalist from 2014 to today (see here), 2) the sum total of libel sentences against a journalist who in 2019, at the court of first instance, had sentences totalling eight years of imprisonment (see here), 3) the Italian legislation on libel with its gagging effect despite the attempts to modify it by abolishing imprisonment but increasing the fines by up to forty times (see here).

Among other things, the fact of devoting its attention only occasionally to Italy and to a few cases that concern it has exposed the Platform to the risk of being accused of partiality and political partisan, as we saw during the recent session of the 28th January when the Italian parliamentarians of the Lega party launched the accusation that too much attention was being devoted to the behaviour of their leader Matteo Salvini and too little to the perceived offences of his detractors.

We hope that the Parliamentary Assembly will take into consideration the problem outlined here and can take initiatives to equip the Council of Europe with a much broader monitoring capacity appropriate to the seriousness of the phenomenon of intimidation and threats to journalists and freedom. of information.

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