Legal Aid: Why Ossigeno is defending Giulia Cerino

The targeted lawsuit to which she has been subject highlights the necessity of systematising the obligation of the publisher to assist the authors of published content

Ossigeno per l’Informazione has accepted the request from the journalist Giulio Cerino to be assisted by the Free Legal Aid office of the Osservatorio (see here) in the trial which she has to face as a result of her being sued for defamation (see here) as the author of the reportage broadcast on the 11th June 2015 during an episode of AnnoUno, a programme of La7 transmitted in the autumn of the same year and produced by the Zerostudios Company headed by Michele Santoro.

Why? The request has been accepted for three essential reasons.

This trial has a strategic value in demonstrating the instrumental and intimidating use of lawsuits in Italy.

The journalist has been hit with a “targeted lawsuit” aimed at her since she represents the weakest link in the editorial chain. This approach makes the abuse of the right to resort to a judge for a defamation claim even more unjust and conditioning.

This approach has enabled the editor and the producer of the programme to shirk their responsibilities and reply with a “No” to the request from the journalist to be given legal assistance at the expense of the publishing company. An editor and editorial staff review a journalist’s work before publishing it; it is they who take the final decision. But yet in these cases, they behave as if they had not shared these decisions with the author of the piece. The Cerino affair clearly exposes what happens to many journalists especially freelance ones.

Before taking on the defence of Giulia Cerino, Ossigeno viewed the disputed television feature, examined the ruling on the plaintiff’s plea-bargaining and the responsibilities which were attributed to him for the road accident talked about in the reportage and has listened to the reconstruction by the journalist.

According to the evaluation criteria of the Observatory, the complaint directed at Giulia Cerino represents one of the over 5000 unjust attacks directed in the same manner at journalists who do their job correctly and professionally without defaming anybody. They are attacks which give rise to long and costly procedures which nine times out of ten end in nothing, like soap bubbles, concluding with the dismissal of the case. Obviously it will be the judge to establish if this case is also a soap bubble at the end of the trial that is after some years. One must wait. But Ossigeno maintains that it is highly probable; the statistics show that it happens nine times out of ten. But the statistics also show the person sued is subject to a trial ordeal and incurs substantial costs which will not be reimbursed at the end of the trial even in the case of acquittal. This is what happens in the majority of cases.

Unfounded complaints, therefore, have a retaliatory character towards individual journalists and are intimidating towards the whole sector. Journalists say that it is better to not speak of certain things on TV and in the newspapers. Hence Ossigeno is offering this free legal aid service and is proposing to create a support fund, more substantial than that begun by Ossigeno, in collaboration with MLDI and with the Journalists Order of Tuscany, to assist all journalists affected by these abuses.


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