The judge will decide in December onthe setting aside of the charge as requested by the publicprosecutor. The reporter had reported the presence of asbestos in thebuilding of the municipal transport company of La Spezia
On the 14th December 2018 the court of first instance of La Spezia will decide whether to file, as requested by the public prosecutor, the procedure for libel against freelance journalist Gabriele Cocchi, assisted in court by lawyer Andrea Di Pietro on behalf of the Legal Aid office of Ossigeno and by lawyer Sergio Busoni in partnership with the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI).
Cocchi was sued on October 11, 2016 by Renato Goretta, sole director pro tempore of ATC (the municipal transport company of La Spezia) for having reported, in two articles published in the Gazzettadellaspezia.it online newspaper on July 12th and July 23rd , 2016, the company’s punitive attitude against its employees denouncing pathological symptoms attributable to asbestos exposure. At the time the ASL (Azienda Sanitaria Locale)(the localhealth unit) analyses attested to the presence of asbestos in the workplace, with documents not disclosed by the company.
The articles disputed by the former administrator of ATC were respectively entitled: “He denounces the presence of asbestos and the disastrous conditions of the vehicles and is punished by the company. Here is the story of Luca Simoni, ATC employee ” and ” ATC: the asbestos is there but don’t speak about it “.
The presence of asbestos in the former headquarters of the company was much debated locally and still today it is not fully clarified and precisely for that reason the CEO ofA TC was investigated for the offence of negligent injury, inproceedings that subsequently, on December 21st, 2016, that is, six months after the publication of the articles, were set aside.
The reporter (based on medical records in his possession) had written that some employees had been diagnosed with “bilateral pleural thickening compatible with pleural asbestosis”, a disease that affects those who come into contac twith asbestos.
In the first of the two articles Cocchi interviewed Luca Simoni, and ATC driver and Cobas (i.e., locally based) trade unionist, who in the previous months had made serious accusations against the company, denouncing the presence of asbestos in the workplace and the advanced age of the vehicle fleet.
The second article – with the help of some documents that Simoni himself had given to Cocchi – reconstructed the story chronologically, highlighting some unclear behaviour of the ATC. In particular, the journalist stigmatized the ways in which Goretta had responded to the questions of the Municipal Commission on the actual presence of asbestos in the company. In his criticisms Cocchi added that his newspaper would however have gladly given the right of respond to the company. Instead of a reply the lawsuit arrived.
In an initial phase of the proceedings,the Public Prosecutor had issued a notice of the conclusion of the investigative phase, an act that presaged the indictment of Cocchi for libel in print.
The defence counsel of the journalist countered arguing the case of the legitimate exercise of the right to report and criticise, retracing chronologically and in detail all the complex phases of the affair. At this point, the prosecuting magistrate had requested the setting aside of the proceedings stating that “the expressions used fall within the right to criticize and in any case do not exceed the limits of a challenge to the offended person’s activity”. The former ATC managing director in turn, opposed request to have the matter set aside. Now the decision will be taken by the General Prosecutor in the hearing of December 14th, 2018.