Legal aid from Ossigeno to a journalist from Puglia abandoned by the publisher

Filippo Mele was sentenced in the court of first instance to pay also the compensation due from the publisher who dropped out of the trial because it declared bankruptcy

OSSIGENO May 26th 2022Ossigeno per l’Informazione, in collaboration with Media Defence, has taken up the defence for the appeal judgment of the freelance journalist Filippo Mele, sentenced in the court of first instance to pay compensation for damages together with other colleagues and newspapers, including Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.

The journalist is accused of defamation against the parents of a young woman who died in tragic and rather unclear circumstances, in 1988. He will be defended in court by defence counsel Andrea Di Pietro and his colleague Francesco Mele.

Assuming the legal defence of the journalist Filippo Mele at its own expense, Ossigeno per l’Informazione re-proposes the serious unresolved problem of journalists who, during libel trials arising from the publication of their articles, lose the support of the publisher because it declares bankruptcy. At that point the journalist must also bear the expenses that would have been incurred by the publisher. Filippo Mele is the living proof of this problem.

THE CONTEXT – Like other newspapers, in 2007 the Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno gave an account of the new elements that emerged during the investigation into the tragic death of a young man and a young woman referred to in the press as “the engaged couple of Policoro” a town in the province of Matera.

THE CASE – Filippo Mele, a freelance journalist, collaborator with the daily newspaper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno at Scanzano Jonico, was tasked with updating the readers. For a fee of a few euro, he wrote a concise article, describing the developments of the new investigations, saying that they gave rise to the hypothesis that the young couple had been killed and that the crime could be linked to investigations into drug affairs. .

Filippo Mele described those developments without making any judgments on the reliability of the new hypothesis, even downplaying its importance. He did not write anything that could justify his first-degree conviction as responsible for defamation of the victim. That court of first instance judgment will now be examined in the appeal judgment

OSSIGENO has decided to accept Filippo Mele’s request for legal aid  because the court proceedings in which he is involved are strategically useful to highlight the precarious and uncertain conditions in which Italian journalists work.

First of all, Filippo Mele is a freelance journalist, an external collaborator who as such enjoys lower remuneration and guarantees than a regular employee. Second, he faces this appeal trial as an “orphan of his publisher“. In fact, during the lawsuit, the publishing company of the Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (which paid Filippo Mele’s lawyer and was required to pay at least a portion of any compensation) declared bankruptcy. Therefore it became extinct as a legal entity albeit as an entity that had been already jointly and severally condemned to pay damages of € 10,000.

As a consequence, if the conviction were to be upheld on appeal, the journalist Filippo Mele and the chief editor would also have to pay the publishing company’s share of compensation.

It is not the first time that aberrations of this kind have occurred in Italy to the detriment of journalists. Such aberrations   highlighted,  already ten years ago,  the urgency of  legislative reform and the need to establish a guarantee fund at the publishing level to help those who without fault become orphans of their publishers. These problems are still unresolved despite the earnest commitments undertaken for years at the political and business level.

What happened between this journalist and his publisher is undoubtedly one of the worst troubles that for years can happen to journalists in Italy. They write and publish their articles with the ostensible certainty of having the support of a chief editor and a publisher. But when the publisher goes belly up the journalists are faced with the court case alone, with the risk, indeed the certainty, of having to bear the payment of legal fees and the payment of damages, not only for their own share but also for the share of the publishing company which in the meantime has gone bankrupt. 

There were similar, sensational cases of Concita De Gregorio, the former editor of L’Unita and more recently the case of Gianmarco Chiocci, former director of Il Tempo although there are numerous other, less well known examples. They have all been detrimental to Italy’s freedom of information. ASP

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