Legal defence. Defamation charges against Raffaella Fanelli dismissed

The freelance journalist was sued in 2015 by the daughter of the well-known criminal Paolo Signorelli following an interview with former terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra about a massacre during a period of Italian terrorism known as the Years of Lead

The investigative judge in the Court of Milan, Giulio Fanales, dimissed criminal proceedings against Raffaella Fanelli, a freelance journalist working for the Italian major daily newspaper La Repubblica. She was sued for defamation by Silvia Signorelli in 2015. On 13 Febraury 2018, the investigative judge finally dismissed all charges.

The plaintiff was the daughter of Paolo Signorelli, well-known member of the New Order (Ordine Nuovo) who felt that her late father’s memory and reputation had been harmed when referring to “false facts” published in an interview with Vincenzo Vinciguerra in May 2015.  Paolo Signorelli had died in 2010. Interviewee Vincenzo Vinciguerra is serving life imprisonment for the Massacre of Peteano, which took place in Sagrado, near Gorizia, in 1972 and led to the death of three policemen.

During the interview, which was published by La Repubblica on 25 May 2015 with the headline “Massacre of ‘piazza della Loggia’, ‘A new confession from one of the authors’, last survivor says”,(see), Mr Vinciguerra remembered his declaration in which he acknowledged responsibility in the Massacre of Peteano that he explained as being part of a strategy of military opposition. However, he distanced himself from other terroristic attacks that, according to him, pursued other objectives and were different in nature. Then, he mentioned Signorelli as one of the leaders of fascist terrorist groups active in the same period. The plaintiff considered these declarations as defamatory.

Raffaella Fanelli commented: “Consulting documents and rulings from the Years of Lead to reconstruct the history of Paolo Signorelli years after the facts had occured, was not an easy task. Lawyers and colleagues from Ossigeno per l’Informazione who assisted me, did an amazing job to support me. Lawyer Andrea Di Pietro, who had been assigned to me by Ossigeno’s office of legal assistance, recalled in the written defence submissions that historical facts could not be changed. I felt protected and stronger having Ossigeno by my side. And so, I won. We won. Together.” The journalist also said that she was the only one who was sued, as the author of the news report, as well as the interviewee but not the newspaper that had published the interview. The publisher refused to assist her in the legal proceedings: “If Ossigeno had not financially supported me, I would have had also to pay for the legal expenses”.

In July 2016, the public prosecutor requested that the complaint to be dismissed in favour of the journalist’s good reporting. Indeed, Paolo Signorelli had been condemned for felony of assault and leadership in a subversive association and therefore, Vinciguerra’s declaration dealt with established  facts. The prosecutor also said that, when such important historical facts were involved, the “right to be forgotten” and the protection of reputation did not apply as there was a public interest at stake.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione provides free legal assistance for journalists to help them defend against the pressure of intimidation (more information available here) and is operated in cooperation with the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). Ossigeno’s legal department decided to support the case of journalist Raffaella Fannelli because they believed the charges against her were frivolous and vexatious, and therefore, represented a strategic case for the defence of freedom of information in Italy.

ONY (if)

Read a commentary by Lawyer Andrea Di Pietro “Right to be forgotten. News have also historical importance, judge holds

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