The free legal aid office of Ossigeno has decided to provide legal aid to the reporter Mauro D’Agostino to whom the publisher of the online newspaper CorriereQuotidiano.it is not providing this form of assistance even though the article which the well-known company of male clothing is disputing has been published by its newspaper (read here the details).
Ossigeno has taken up this defence giving to this affair a strategic value in the campaign it is waging to make everyone understand, through the use of factual evidence, what abuses, distortions and instrumentalized uses of the laws on defamation in print take place and what are the heavy obligations which fall directly on the reporters who publish news of public interest which displeases someone.
Obviously it will be the judges to rule on the substance and on the merit of the accusations levelled at D’Agostino. But already one can make several observations on the affair in which he is involved at a legal level.
- The preventive confiscation is surprising since the documents were published by an online publication registered as a newspaper and therefore according to Italian law enjoying the same guarantees as paper-based newspapers for which preventive confiscation is precluded.
- The D’Agostino-Brioni affair demonstrates that, in the face of a dispute for defamation, that is an accusation specific to an individual, the author of a disputed article cannot avoid a trial. He must nominate a defence lawyer and if the publisher does not help him – and Ossigeno did not rush to his aid – he himself would have to bear not insignificant costs, expenses which not uncommonly at the end of these procedures must still be borne in full or in part by the accused even if his innocence is established. This is what Ossigeno calls “the tax on innocence”. It is this which requires urgent legislative reform and, whilst waiting for it, forms of more extensive and up-to-date mutual aid.
- The situation in which this reporter finds himself is the proof of the following fact, logically undeniable but legally possible and frequent in Italy: whoever maintains that their reputation has been damaged unjustifiably by the publication of an article can also sue only the author of the article without levelling any accusation at the publisher who has published it. And the publisher can withdraw from any moral obligation to provide legal assistance to someone who has professionally provided him with a work of intelligence which he has used for commercial ends after it having been subjected to a chain of internal professional, i.e. responsible evaluation within his business premises. It would be more logical if it were always the publisher to respond by counter-suing the company for malicious behaviour towards the author of the article. The legislation treats very differently the responsibility of those who put on sale other products, e.g. a vacuum cleaner. Whoever maintains that a vacuum cleaner has caused them damage can sue the manufacturer, the seller and the designer but cannot ask for damages only from the last one.
- This affair raises the question regarding the right to provide information in a critical way on the management of companies engaged in union negotiations over the containment of costs and the reduction of employees. If in these cases only articles appreciated by the companies can be published we can say goodbye to journalism and perhaps even to trade union action.