Ilaria, Maria Grazia and Graziella. Three brave Italian journalists killed abroad

On the memorial plaque of Ossigeno per l’Informazione their names and faces appear, along with those of 27 of their male colleagues who, like them, lost their lives because “they sought the truth”, in order to describe it to all of us.

On March 21st 2022, Ossigeno pay tribute to their memory with a public ceremony at the Casa del Jazz in Rome (viale di Porta Ardeatina 55, 10 am-1pm) dedicated to Ilaria Alpi on the 28th anniversary of her death.

OSSIGENO 8th March 2022 – On March 8th the day dedicated to the celebration of Women’s Day, Ossigeno’s Observatory that monitors attacks against media workers and defends their right to exercise freedom of information, published the 2021 data on female journalists threatened because of their work. There were 105, 27% of the 384 media workers subjected to similar threats and intimidation in Italy. This is the highest number since Ossigeno began systematically monitoring these intimidations in 2006; a number that becomes even more significant considering that within it the cases characterized by sexist attacks and gender discrimination have increased. (read more details here)

Discrimination and intimidation attacks are increasing. It is a major problem, but it cannot be said that women who work in the media world acquiesce. Indeed, every year they demonstrate more courage, professionalism, the will not to suffer passively and with resignation, the desire to exercise a freedom that knows neither gender limitations nor quotas in order to present readers with every aspect of the facts.

The recent words of the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen on the importance of the role of women in our society refer to how rich the vision of female journalists can be, as it encompasses their sensitivity and independent judgment. They are needed: “not because they are better, but because they are different”.

This diversity is able to express even more the democratic value of journalism which provides space and voice, without discrimination and violence, having as its sole objective the reporting of facts and concealed truths. To practice this free, courageous and democratic journalism today many female journalists do not retreat, just as Ilaria Alpi, Maria Grazia Cutuli and Graziella De Palo did not retreat even when facing risky missions aware that they could pay with their lives their discomforting investigations.

As every year, on the occasion of the celebration of International Women’s Day Ossigeno published its data on gender. And Ossigeno spoke with Mario Cutuli, the brother of Maria Grazia, one of the three Italian female journalists killed while doing their job, who talked about her and her idea of ​​journalism, her love for this work and the legacy her sacrifice has left, for the sake of truth.

Maria Grazia was a journalist who worked for Corriere della Sera as a correspondent for the foreign news section. She died on November 19th 2001, in Afghanistan, on the hazardous road she intended to take to Kabul. She was killed along with three other reporters; Julio Fuentes, correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the Australian Harry Burton and the Afghan Azizullah Haidari, correspondents for the Reuters News Agency.

Maria Grazia Cutuli was born in Catania and was 39 years old. Two months after the attack that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York and caused three thousand deaths, she undertook to seek out information on the context of that terrible attack in the country identified as the most likely organizational base for it, On the very day twenty years ago when Maria Grazia lost her life, the Corriere della Sera had published on the front page its scoop on the discovery of a deposit of nerve gas inside a base abandoned by the Taliban. (read here the account by Maria Grazia Cutuli)

On November 19th 2021, the twenty years commemoration of her tragic death was celebrated with various initiatives. It was an anniversary that occurred shortly after the dramatic sequence of events in Afghanistan whereby that country reverted in August 2021 back to the control of the Taliban with the explicit denial of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Mario Cutuli told Ossigeno, “Precisely because of Maria Grazia’s bond with those places, for what we have left there, the events of August 2021 were particularly close to my heart. The feeling was that after 20 years nothing had changed. The articles written twenty years earlier could very well have been published in August 2021. ”.

How did you and the other family members feel about Maria Grazia’s decision to go to Afghanistan? And then, the fact of knowing she was there, and the news of her death?

”We knew that those who do that job must take risks into account and that Maria Grazia was very professional, she didn’t act rashly. The circumstance of her death was absolutely unpredictable. I had spoken to her on the phone a few days earlier. She told me there were riots, she was advised not to go out and she stayed in the hotel. Maria Grazia knew very well the risks of her job, but she was careful. Certainly, after her death, as unfortunately also happened for others, someone will have thought that Maria Grazia had been looking for trouble; in commonplace social attitudes someone may have also thought that the job that Maria Grazia did was not a job for a woman. For my sister it was not merely a job, it was a mission: the search for the truth. A task that became more and more burdensome, entangled up in a situation of increasingly confused information “.

In a village in Herat, Afghanistan, after the death of Maria Grazia, a cobalt blue school surrounded by fruit trees was inaugurated by the Cutuli Foundation. The school dedicated to the memory of the journalist who had always been attentive to small children, to the forgotten and to their rights and protection, stands out in the deserted village. Mario is in charge of the Foundation’s projects together with his sister, Donata, who just recently in an article on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the death of Maria Grazia, described the obstacles encountered for the realization of the project and how ” at a certain point – Donata writes – we were offered the possibility of setting up a school for boys only. Obviously we strongly opposed it; in that case we would have given up on the entire project. We did not need to build something that would have given us so much publicity, which the newspapers would certainly have talked about but which created further discrimination and  especially against girls, about whom Maria Grazia had written so much “.

“Currently – explains Mario – we have started a project to welcome street children in Kilifi, Kenya, with the help of a Comboni missionary priest, Father Kizito, an individual who is halfway between a great savant and a very capable entrepreneur, together with the not-for-profit Koinonia Community. They provide the land and we carry out the projects. We envisage programs of education, social inclusion and rehabilitation of difficult and vulnerable persons”.

The projects carried out by the Cutuli Foundation, in the name of Maria Grazia, also happen in Italy. In Catania, the journalist’s hometown, with the non-profit-making association LAD, a playground is being built in the garden surrounding the reception centre for children with thalassemia, linked to the Paediatric Haematology and Oncology Unit of the Policlinico of Catania

For this great heritage, tangible and altruistic, we can only say thanks to Maria Grazia Cutuli. “Surely – Mario tells Ossigenothe message that remains from Maria Grazia is the commitment to give meaning and meaning to life also through one’s work. As she herself said, Maria Grazia was not satisfied with the superficial but wanted to get to the bottom of things, convinced that by searching for unresolved problems, great progress could be made. I wanted to go further: there – Mario says in conclusion – I believe that in this sentence there is all her legacy. With these few words my sister explained to us which way to look at things, which way to describe the facts. She was able to be empathetic to the point of feeling the suffering and pain in order to understand it. In many ways you’re her human path overlapped with her professional one “. And after twenty years her commitment is still bearing fruit.

RDM wt


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