Italian reporter: “I earn a few euro per article and must pay legal fees for SLAPPs
Giuseppe Spallino, talks about his experience as a precarious freelance journalist sued for an article. Ossigeno and Media Defence are giving him their help
OSSIGENO 4th May 2023 – By Giuseppe Spallino – I am pleased that Ossigeno discovered the affair that concerns me, considered it worthy of attention and invited me to relate it. In fact, it shows, with a concrete example, what can happen to freelance journalists in Italy, to those who collaborate with a newspaper without being formally employed by it.
Maybe things don’t go like this for everyone, but it happened to me to be sued speciously for an article published by the newspaper with which I collaborate and to find myself bearing the costs of legal assistance without the help of the newspaper.
It looks like a Kafkaesque story, for the various paradoxical aspects that it exhibited. The first was the charge, as it was formulated. It reads, verbatim, that the accused, that is me, “as local correspondent of the Giornale di Sicilia, published an article in which he reported on the anti-mafia operation called Black Cat for the crime of mafia association and receiving stolen goods, during which (article, ed. ) he referred to one of the defendants, to whom he attributed the behaviour of which he was charged without specifying that he had been acquitted at the conclusion of the first instance judgement”.
That’s what it says in the indictment. The paradoxical fact is that, right at the beginning of that article, I specify that the defendants to whom I refer have been “acquitted by the Court”!
But let us come to the second paradox. When I received the lawsuit and the invitation to appoint a defence counsel, I called the lawyer of the Giornale di Sicilia, the newspaper that published the article over which I am being sued. I told him I should appoint a defence lawyer and had thought about him. He warned me that, since the chief editor was not sued, as often happens, the costs of my defence would be borne by me and not by the newspaper. I couldn’t believe it. I wrote to the company secretary to ask him to confirm what the lawyer had told me. He confirmed to me that this is the line that the newspaper follows in these cases.
And so I found myself alone, abandoned by my newspaper, from the newspaper that approved and published the article for which I am now sued, from the newspaper that published my other articles for which I risked being attacked.
I cannot forget it. It happened in the summer of 2017. The Giornale di Sicilia published my reportage in three instalments. I reported the telephone wiretapping of the members of a local gang dedicated to drug dealing.
The newspaper complimented me. But the two leaders of the gang didn’t appreciate it. They tried to attack me. They chased me to the police station. They didn’t want to be defeated.
Since then the police have protected me with virtual radio-connected surveillance, by a decision of the provincial committee for public order and safety of Palermo.
It was a striking case. The National Order of Journalists, the trade associations and Ossigeno per l’informazione expressed solidarity. What is solidarity? I can say that it is something that a reporter in that unpleasant situation appreciates a lot; he remains grateful to those who take a stand and to those who lend him a hand. I knew that by publishing that information I risked something. I knew the pay for those articles would be a few euro. But I had done it, because I love my job and I know that in order to make the truth known, some risks must be taken.
I know well that my newspaper is not loaded. But I expected it to at least appear as a civil party in the trials of my attackers. It did not. I joined the civil party at my own expense, assisted by my trusted lawyer.
I think it is useful to know how these things actually go for us correspondents, freelancers and local reporters.
I have known for years the activity of “Ossigeno per l’Informazione”, its Observatory on threatened journalists and its founder and president Alberto Spampinato. Ossigeno has granted me a cash gratuity to partially cover the legal costs that I am incurring to defend myself in a trial that will see me, despite myself, in the dock with the accusation of libel.
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