Prison for libel. In Sicily a journalist jail sentenced goes to social services

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Graziella Lombardo, former editor in chief of Centonove, was sentenced to 4 months in prison together with Alessandra Serio, author of the article. Three other jail sentences could become applied too

On December 4, 2017, ten years after the facts, the Court of Surveillance of Catanzaro ordered the Sicilian journalist Graziella Lombardo to alternative measures for the assignment to social services following a sentence of four months imprisonment for libel, issued in 2014 by the Court of Crotone and now enforced, from a non-profit organization that assists women in need.

The journalist was condemned for failing to scrutinize an article published in 2007 by the weekly Centonove, of which she was chief editor. Even the author of the article, the journalist Alessandra Serio, was sentenced to four months in prison, but for her the sentence was suspended.

In that article entitled “If Fortino evades house arrest”, Alessandra Serio had reported that the lawyer Giuseppe Fortino, confined to Capo d’Orlando (in the province of Messina) in the villa of his partner, had moved away without authorization. The lawyer had denied that this had happened and had sued. The trial proved him right. The circumstances of the escape proved to be false.

Graziella Lombardo, of whom Ossigeno has already dealt with in 2016 (read), commented: “It seems unfair to me that wrong journalists have to pay such high prices. After this assignment to social services, everything became very difficult for me, even accompanying my children to school”. She explained to Ossigeno that she cannot leave the house before 8 am and must return before 9 pm. Moreover, she cannot leave the territory of the province of Messina, where she lives.

After relying on social services, Graziella Lombardo expressed her bitterness to the president of the Order of Journalists of Sicily, in a letter. She did not expect this sad epilogue to her professional career, which began in 1995, and she thinks that the economic difficulties of the Centonove publishing company have greatly damaged her further. These difficulties did not allow her to have an effective and continuous legal defense, to the point of not being able to ask in time for the commutation of the custodial sentence into a fine.

Unfortunately, her situation is likely to worsen because on her head hang another three convictions for imprisonment for libel. They were issued by the Court of Appeal of Reggio Calabria in 2005-2006. They are not yet executive but have already led judges to deny her the benefit of the conditional suspension of the sentence.

The first is a conviction dated December 30th, 2005, for facts of ten years before: another four months of imprisonment – suspended sentence – for omitted control. The second sentence, issued by the same Court on January 18, 2016: another six months of imprisonment, suspended sentence, for omitted control and defamation, aggravated by the attribution of the determined fact. The third sentence is from September 18, 2006: another eight months of imprisonment, suspended sentence, for libel with the aggravating circumstance of the attribution of the determined fact.

From the certificate of the pending charges, issued by the Catania Public Prosecutor’s Office, 22 cases were charged to Graziella Lombardo: one for arbitrary publication of judicial documents, all others for libel. It is a common situation for many editors-in-chief.

The bankruptcy of the company and the ensuing investigation – Meanwhile, the publishing company Centonove, of which Lombardo once held some shares, went bankrupt and the sole chief editor – the journalist Enzo Basso – is under house arrest for improper bankruptcy. Even Graziella Lombardo is under investigation for bankruptcy, because of her holdings. Finally, on 4 February 2018, the publication ended at an auction (read).

The Ossigeno Dossier – In October 2016 Ossigeno presented the dossier “Taci o ti querelo” (“shut up or i’ll sue”) presenting and analyzing the unpublished data obtained by the Ministry of Justice on the tangible effects of the application of the legislation on libel in Italy, on the proceedings to which it gave rise and their outcome in the period 2010-2015. The data showed that every year, in Italy, 155 journalists were sentenced to prison terms. The average sentences did not exceed twelve months in prison, but on the whole they had 103 years in jail, every year.

Despite the commitments made by Parliament, where the new bill to regulate defamation was under discussion, on 28 December 2017, the legislature ended without approving the bill to abolish defamation jail (read).

RDM (gt)

Read also In prison for libel. The journalists at risk are in the thousands

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