A proposal from Ossigeno to uncover it and combat it.
Ossigeno for Information is an Italian not-for-profit organisation created in 2008 by a group of very experienced journalists. It works with professional volunteers with the patronage of the Italian journalists’ union FNSI and by the professional organisation of Italian journalists (Ordine dei Giornalisti). Ossigeno collaborates with various Italian and European organisations.
What we do
Ossigeno conducts a careful and continual monitoring of those violations of the freedom of expression and of media whose intention is to impede the free circulation of ideas, opinions and news unappreciated by those in power. In particular Ossigeno examines the limitations of freedom of expression and of the media in Italy which prevents journalists, bloggers and editors through threats and other violent methods or through misuse of the law from defending their own reputation or exercising other rights.
This monitoring has enabled us to publish the names of 2730 victims of these violations and to thereby draw to public attention this phenomenon ignored by the media and little known to the public.
The research by Ossigeno has identified the nature and the vast scale of the phenomenon and has pushed the Italian Parliament and Government to announce specific measures for the protection of journalists and for the suppression of abuses. To conduct this research Ossigeno has employed a methodical research technique (il Rivelatore della Censura) which is available to anyone who wants to conduct a similar investigation in other European countries in which, one suspects, there are the same unrecorded violations just as it happened in Italy before Ossigeno published its indisputable evidence.
What are these violations
It is important to underline that Ossigeno’s research method is applicable to western European countries which fully recognise press freedom and freedom of expression.
The research hypothesis, which was confirmed in Italy, is the following. In these countries limitations on press freedom and on the freedom of expression are achieved more or less completely with apparently illegal methods, carrying out offences or abuses which are not adequately prosecuted with the objective of preventing journalists, bloggers and editors to publish certain information unappreciated by those in power or in criminal associations.
The most frequent criminal methods are intimidation, threats, physical assaults, damage, theft of archives or equipment. The most frequent abuses are legal action on the pretext of defamation, the request for damages based on false or exaggerated suppositions, the exclusion from public events, accusations of violating confidential investigations, confiscation of archives, equipment and websites and discrimination in employment.
The results of Ossigeno’s research
The research conducted in Italy has shown that these violations are not sporadic. They are the manifestation of an illness in the democratic system, an illness with precise characteristics and causes and which is probably present in several countries. Ossigeno informs those with responsibility to abandon this general neglect which is permitting this illness to spread in all those countries which have outlawed classic censorship but which don’t defend themselves from these variations of it.
Ossigeno’s investigation has shaken the general incredulity, has illuminated and demonstrated that what everybody denied happens in Italy. The analyses and the conferences of Ossigeno have highlighted the problems to resolve also in the area of legislation, identifying problems (such as the absence of legal protection for press freedom, the unfounded legal actions) also present in other countries. The investigation by Ossigeno has put these themes on the political agenda and now, slowly, things are changing. Recently the Italian Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission has accepted the request from Ossigeno per l’Informazione to consider this aspect and to tackle the phenomenon also at the legislative level. The Parliament has endorsed this committment with the consent of the Government. It is not yet a solution but it is a major step forward.
The Italian Paradox
The Italian situation is in many respects paradoxical. As the Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, has said in Italy the press are free but the journalists are not. It is paradoxical that in this country, free and democratic, thousands of journalists can be targeted by intimidations, threats and various abuses from those who don’t like the news stories that they publish and seek to block them. It is paradoxical that this has happened for many years and that only now is it openly spoken about. These are clear violations of the freedom of expression and of the press which until a few months ago were ignored or in any case not considered under this aspect neither by the authorities nor by the media.
What to do in other countries
One mustn’t succumb rashly to the temptation to consider the Italian paradox as an isolated case. Perhaps Italy is sick just as much as Germany, Spain, France, Belgium and other countries and thus other countries should cure themselves. There is only one way to find out, i.e., to subject these countries to the same analyses that showed up the Italian paradox, the test of the Rivelatore di Censura (Censorship Detector). It is what Ossigeno proposes to do in the coming years. Ossigeno is, therefore, looking for interested parties in each of these countries to share and execute this project which requires volunteers, professionalism and the training of observers capable of recording violations not referred to by the media.
It is important to underline that in order to produce data not influenced by governmental bodies, it falls to NGOs and not to public institutions to observe and record violations of these and other rights.