Italy. Ossigeno legal aid to the monthly sued for €250.000 damages

A waste-disposal company consider itself defamed by the publication of an article describing the progress of a tender launched by the Municipality

OSSIGENO 25th MARCH 2022 – A private company that manages the collection and disposal of waste under contract for the Municipality of Vasto (in the province of Chieti, in Abruzzo) has sued the monthly “Vasto Domani – Giornale degli Abruzzesi nel mondo” for libel, requesting 250 thousand euro damages. The periodical has a long history and is distributed in Abruzzo among the inhabitants of Vasto and its surroundings and, by subscription, to emigrants around the world.

The newspaper is accused of libel and damage with the publication of an insert, attached to the January 2020 issue, in which criticisms are addressed at the activities of the Municipality of Vasto regarding the sale of its majority stake in the company for refuse collection to the minority shareholder, who thus became the owner of 100% of the shares. Furthermore, the insert raised the doubt that the resources for this financial operation were lacking, which the article’s author believes was conducted at a loss for the Municipality.

It is not the municipality complaining about the defamation but the company that acquired the municipality’s shareholding. The trial will begin on May 26th 2022 before the Civil Court of Vasto.

The Free Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno judges this dispute as reckless and considers the claim for compensation disproportionate for a newspaper that distributes few copies and has limited resources, to the point of its appearing intimidating and aimed at stopping publication. Therefore, Ossigeno per l’Informazione, which works in collaboration with Media Defence to support journalists and newspapers who do not have the necessary resources to defend themselves adequately when they are drawn into lawsuits that appear spurious and reckless, has decided to accept the request for help from the newspaper. Ossigeno has assumed, at its own expense, the defence in court of the engineer Angelo Del Lupo, author of the disputed article and Giorgio Di Domenico, publisher and editor-in-chief of the monthly. The defence is entrusted to the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro.

THE FACTS – The insert attached to the January 2020 issue of the weekly Vasto Domani, has reconstructed in depth the story of the sale of the Municipality’s shares in the waste collection company, a matter of undoubted public interest talked about by the citizens of Vasto, a town of 41 thousand inhabitants in the province of Chieti.

Angelo Del Lupo, the author of what is a serious technical analysis, made with competence of the subject matter, including empirical  facts and accounting data, made a series of critical observations on the inappropriateness and the ways in which the Municipal Administration conducted the operation. Del Lupo stated that from his point of view, the municipality did not have the authority required by law, to sell its shares to the waste disposal company in order to obtain a reduction in the municipality’s operating costs, since in the previous years of operation the company had balanced its books and made profits. Therefore, since the Municipality of Vasto had no interest in selling its share, much less with an operation that resulted in a loss; it should have been necessary to invalidate the sale. The financial operation, says the author of the analysis, was all to the advantage of the minority private shareholder who acquired the shares sold by the Municipality.

Furthermore, Angelo Del Lupo pointed out that the tender for the sale of the majority stake was flawed since, in the way it was announced, could only involve one competitor, the private shareholder, as the company statute provided that corporate resolutions were taken with a majority of 60%. This actually discouraged the participation of external entrepreneurs. To be a competitive tender effectively open to the market, the statute should have been amended before the tender and control should have been guaranteed to the shareholder holding 51% of the shares.

As evidence of his thesis, the author said that the Municipality of Vasto has, as a consequence seen the cost of the contract increase compared to under the previous corporate, structure. Thus the tender was also a solution contrary to the interests of citizens.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione has determined the recklessness of this legal action from two elements.

In the first place, the plaintiff did not make any request for rectification, denial or reply, as he could have done with less expense and greater satisfaction, making his point of view known to the same readers who had received the information deemed libellous, with whom he could thus restore his reputation.

Secondly, it cannot be overlooked that the sum requested for unproven damages from this small Abruzzo monthly with limited circulation is of substantial magnitude. Vasto Domani was founded in 1966 and since then has gained prestige and authority for the quality and seriousness of its journalism, recounting the history, culture, traditions, facts and local politics even to the emigrants who live scattered across eleven countries in the world.

THE PRESIDENT OF THE ORDER OF JOURNALISTS OF ABRUZZO Stefano Pallotta commented: “These exorbitant demands for compensation have the sole scope of gagging information. These reckless initiatives must absolutely face a legislative barrier capable of avoiding the contraction of two fundamental rights for journalists, those of news and of criticism which are fundamental for democracy. I express full solidarity with my colleagues at Vastò Domani and my firm support for Ossigeno who has been fighting for years, amidst great difficulties, in support of colleagues affected by intimidation of all kinds, including reckless complaints.

READ here other news on the activity of the Ossigeno Legal Aid Office

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