Legal assistance by Ossigeno to two reporters sued for 250.000 € compensation

By a waste disposal management company considered itself defamed by an article describing the conduct 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 has sued the monthly “Vasto Domani – Giornale degli Abruzzesi nel Mondo” for libel, asking for 250,000 euro damages. The periodical has a long history and is widely distributed in Abruzzo among the residents of Vasto (Chieti) and its surroundings and, by subscription, to emigrants around the world.

The newspaper is accused of defamation and reputational damage with the publication of an insert in the January 2020 issue, in which criticisms are made of the action of the Municipality of Vasto selling its majority stake in the shareholding company for refuse collection to the minority shareholder who thus became the owner of 100% of the shares. Furthermore, the insert doubted if there were the pre-conditions to proceed with this financial operation which the author of the article believes was carried out 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 regards this dispute as reckless and considers the claim for compensation disproportionate for a newspaper that has a small circulation and has few resources, to the point of the lawsuit appearing intimidating and aiming to stop 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 legal cases that appear spurious and reckless, has decided to accept the newspaper’s request for help. Ossigeno has assumed, therefore at its own expense, the defence of the engineer Angelo Del Lupo, author of the disputed article, and Giorgio Di Domenico, editor-in-chief of the monthly. The defence is entrusted to the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro.

THE FACTS – The weekly Vasto Domani, in the insert attached to the January 2020 issue, reconstructed in depth the story of the sale of the Municipality’s shares in the waste collection company, a matter of undoubted public interest much talked about in Vasto, a city of 41,000 inhabitants in the province of Chieti.

The engineer Angelo Del Lupo, author of what is a thorough technical analysis, competently based on objective facts and accounting data, made a series of critical comments on the anomalies and the ways in which the Municipal Administration conducted the operation. Del Lupo stated that from his point of view, the company charged by the municipality with waste disposal did not have the pre-conditions, required by law, to sell its share in order to obtain a reduction in operating costs, since in the last years of operation the company closed its balance sheets and made profits. 

Therefore, the Municipality of Vasto had no interest in selling its shares, much less in a financial transaction that resulted in a loss. This in itself should have been necessary to invalidate it. The transaction, the author of the analysis maintains, was to the complete 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, as structured, it could only involve one competitor, i.e., the private shareholder, as the company statute provided that corporate resolutions were taken with a majority of 60%. This, in effect, discouraged the participation of external entrepreneurs. To be an effective e competition open to the market, the company statute should have been amended before the tender and control should have been guaranteed to the shareholder holding 51% of the shares.

From his analysis the author maintains that the Municipality of Vasto has thus seen the cost of the contract increase compared to the previous company structure. According to him, therefore, the tender was also a solution contrary to the interests of citizens.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione has identified the recklessness of this legal action in two ways.

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

Secondly, it cannot be overlooked that the sum requested for unproven damages from this small Abruzzo monthly with limited circulation is substantial. 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 Abruzzo emigrants spread over eleven countries.

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

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

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