Freedom of the press is a not well protected right

Federica Delogu

Ossigeno per l’Informazione would like to draw  attention to the most serious and increasingly frequent violations of freedom of the press and expression in European democracies particularly through intimidation and threats to journalists and bloggers. Many abuses of the law go unpunished because of numerous legal loopholes.

These violations are neither well known nor well studied so far and are scarcely present on the agenda of the organisations defending the freedom of the press. But they are a serious problem that we must face. This is the reason for the existence of our observatory. Its mission is our common task.

We are aware of the objections to our affirmations but we respond with factual evidence. We also think that he who defends the freedom of the press has to worry about the very serious violations that occur in authoritarian regimes, in countries where censorship is imposed by law, where the victims do not have a voice and can express themselves only if we give them our voice. We have to ask ourselves what could happen in those countries to those victims if our freedom of expression were weakened? Could we continue to help them?

Freedom of information is already weakening in Italy, Germany, France and so on. In these countries the flow of information is very intense, but to disseminate the most important news for citizens – that is news often unwelcomed by those in power – is even more difficult.
In many countries laws do not protect journalists sufficiently, do not strenghten the freedom of expression and the rights of citizens to have truthful and comprehensive information.
Despite the law, in these countries many newspapers and many journalists that cover unwelcome news are hit by threats, intimidation and serious abuses.

We do not talk enough about this issue, but these intimidations occur. How frequent are they?
At present we can say with absolute certainty that in Italy it happens very often. Ossigeno has produced a list with thousands of victims and impressive data.
We were able to do it because we conducted a special kind of research , going over what the newspapers write, publicising episodes of intimidation that we researched actively and verified ourselves.

In Western Europe, Italy is today the black sheep for the threats against journalists. But this is evident only because Ossigeno shone a light on this phenomenon. Highlighting it has been a good thing for Italy because since Ossigeno’s action, Italy has started a discussion on how produce freer access to information. Uncovering and publicising the disease has been a very useful act.

And so we think that we all need to turn the spotlights on other democracies. We can provide our experience and our expertise. We ask you to meet us and discuss with us this proposal. We would like to know your reactions and your suggestions on how to treat this disease which can spread and manifest itself not only in Italy.

We have some ideas. We do not know exactly how to act in each country but we are certain that silence is not the best cure.

As a partner in a big project we all have to feel a responsability to tackle this problem together. With your cooperation we can indicate to the institutions the way to harmonise and extend the field of observation and obtain the information needed to define the problems and modify the legal system in order to protect the freedom of the press.

In Italy the number of threatened journalists, already high, increased by 50% in recent years. In the last two years another three journalists threatened with death got police protection in addition to the existing 15 protected by the State.

The threats and abuses drive people to censor themselves and force small newspapers to cease publication All occurs in free Italy. But what happens in other free countries?

We needs to know what really happens in Western countries. This knowledge is necessary to better protect both the job of journalists and democracy. International institutions and non governmental organisations must also take on this responsibility, because the media only present a small part of the facts and official statistics contain no data on this phenomenon.

It is evident that we need more monitoring techniques. Ossigeno per l’Informazione created an effective method of monitoring that enabled it to publish a list of 2000 threatened journalists. This same method can tell us also what happens in other countries where there appears to be no intimidation.

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