Fabio Butera is accused of criticizing the reliability of a news report according to which asylum seekers in Vicenza were protesting to have a subscription to a pay TV to watch football matches
OSSIGENO June 19, 2021 – The Free Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno per l’Informazione (see more here) has taken on the legal defence of the freelance journalist Fabio Butera, enrolled in the Journalists Register of the Veneto region, sued for defamation damages by a journalist of the “Giornale di Vicenza”. Fabio Butera will therefore go on a trial that will begin on Thursday 24th June 2021 at the Civil Court of Verona, where he will be defended by the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro
WHY – Ossigeno has accepted Fabio Butera’s request to avail himself of the legal aid that Ossigeno, in collaboration with Media Defence, offers to journalists and bloggers who, without the legal support of their publisher, must face cases of strategic importance. They are important to make everyone understand, with concrete examples, the efforts required in order to defend one’s reputation in Italy as a result of anachronistic and punitive laws and procedures regarding defamation in the press.
THE SPECIFIC CASE asks the following questions: Can a journalist publicly criticize another journalist’s article? Does it damage his reputation if he questions a factual circumstance reported by his colleague? Does it cause him such harm that merits compensation? To what extent is it legitimate to criticize what a journalist has written?
These questions are not new. They are faced by the disciplinary councils of the regional orders of journalists, which resolve many disputes of this type by verifying from time to time how a journalist observes his or her duty of solidarity towards his/her colleagues and how this duty is reconciled with the duty of truth, which is also established by the journalists’ ethics code.
THE DISCIPLINARY COUNCILS – The Disciplinary Councils of the Order also intervened in the case involving Fabio Butera. The Veneto Order of Journalists carried out two disciplinary proceedings: one to assess the work of the journalist criticized by Fabio Butera and another to evaluate the behaviour of Fabio Butera himself. Both ended without dispute. But this double verdict of non-infringement did not close the matter because the journalist criticized by Fabio Butera took the case before a civil judge, asking for compensation for libel.
THE FACTS – The dispute began on the 9th August 2018 when Fabio Butera published a post on his Facebook page, criticising a news report by the journalist Valentino Gonzato entitled: “Asylum seekers want to have Sky, the protest is triggered”, published shortly before on the website of the “Giornale di Vicenza”.
Gonzato’s article reported that, in Vicenza, about twenty immigrants hosted at the San Paolo cultural centre in via Carducci, waiting for the asylum processing, had staged a public protest and had submitted some requests to the Police Headquarters. They had asked inter alia for a subscription to Italian pay TV to watch football matches. This request immediately caused a sensation, arousing disbelief and protests. In fact, it appeared absurd while many asylum seekers struggled to resolve problems of overcrowding, food, and health care. This request helped to fuel the climate of hostility against the asylum seekers as a fierce political campaign was underway to stop in any way possible the landing in Italy of new immigrants.
NO CONFIRMATION – Fabio Butera found it hard to believe that this request was true. He had asked therefore for confirmation from the Police Headquarters, the Prefecture and the author of the article himself, without obtaining any convincing confirmation. And so Butera had written his post giving an account of the fruitless outcome of his research. Objections similar to his had been reported by TV news from Mediaset and the Gedi Group.They too
are now being sued by Valentino Gonzato for the news articles in which they reported upon the news in the Vicenza newspaper on Sky TV, the doubts of Butera and the political and civil society reactions that followed. The subpoena was filed three years after the facts.
THE POLITICAL CONTEXT – The affair must be seen in the context of that period. In August 2018, the anti-immigration controversy flared up in Italy. The Northern League leader Matteo Salvini was Minister of the Interior at the time. He had asked for increasingly harsh anti-immigration measures. He was one of the first to spread on his social media the story of the alleged claim that Vicenza migrants wanted to see football on Sky TV. And in those days there was also the case of the Italian Coast Guard ship “Diciotti” blocked at sea for days by the Interior Minister Salvini with 190 immigrants on board.
LEGITIMATE DOUBTS – Fabio Butera’s post was an invitation to check carefully the news by explaining the facts, not to merely assent to imprecise news regarding hate speeches towards migrants, and also to consult the protagonists of the incidents reported to obtain their version.
Ossigeno and its legal team believe that those who, like the journalist Fabio Butera, diligently ascertain the facts and objectively report them to the public, avoiding personal disputes with other journalists, correctly exercise the duty to disseminate truthful information in the public interest. And it is equally necessary for a journalist to accept criticisms and objections, if they are formulated in a fair and reasoned way and with due personal respect, since the journalistic truth about a given event results from the correlations between several voices and from various points of view. Therefore, prosecuting through the courts those who work like Fabio Butera does not seem to us the right way to defend the truth and personal reputation.
THE JOURNALIST – Fabio Butera issued the following statement to Ossigeno:
In the middle of the summer 2018, while I was observing the political use of hate speech against migrants being raised to the maximum, I felt the need and the civic duty to go deeper into a story whose narrative, in my opinion, being biased and insufficiently detailed, contributed to fuel the aggressive climate towards migrants.
Therefore I couldn’t believe my eyes when a fellow journalist sued me and asked for compensation, accusing me of libel. What was I to do? I am freelance. I immediately talked about it with the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro and I asked and obtained the support of Ossigeno per l’Informazione to cover my legal costs. My story confirms that Ossigeno per l’Informazione and its Free Legal Aid Office are a precious reserve for us reporters. Ossigeno helps journalists without a publisher behind them to feel less alone in the face of attacks aimed at inhibiting freedom of criticism. And this helps all citizens to know more about what is happening. Thank you, Ossigeno!