Libel. Ossigeno has taken up the legal defence of journalists Maria Ferrante

She published online a press release. The Italian consul in Marseille cited her for damages and she was found guilty at first instance. The appeal in Rome in October 2021

OSSIGENO May 24, 2021 – The Free Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno (ALGO) which works in collaboration with Media Defence has taken up the defence for the phase of the appeal process of the journalist Maria Ferrante, chief editor of the information portal www.italiannetwork.it dedicated to topics of interest to Italians residing abroad.

Ossigeno per l’Informazione considers that this story is of wider public interest, as it illustrates a concrete example of the intolerance of many public officials towards the circulation of legitimate information of clear public interest, especially when the information contains criticisms that could put them in a bad light.

Maria Ferrante, who will be defended by the lawyers Andrea Di Pietro and Lucio Andreozzi, is chief editor of a news aggregator portal that collects and disseminates information from reliable sources considered to be of interest to Italians abroad.

Maria Ferrante was sued for damages and found guilty in the first instance and she has now filed an appeal. For the appeal phase she requested and obtained assistance from the Ossigeno Legal Department.

THE AFFAIR – The lawsuit for damages against her was brought in 2017 by the Italian Consul in Marseille at that time. The diplomat felt he was defamed and damaged by the publication, on the website www.italiannetwork.it, of a press release by COM.IT.ES (the representative association of Italians residing abroad accredited by the Italian Consulate in Marseille), which contained public statements made on January 17th 2017 during a peaceful demonstration by COM.IT.ES in Marseille to express dissatisfaction with certain measures and attitudes of the Consul.

That press release published on January 30th 2017 reported the tone and the content of the criticisms. The issue was of undoubted public interest and, inter alia, had been the subject of two questions raised in the Italian Parliament.

50,000 EURO – The Italian Consul General in Marseille had asked for the joint and several sentence   of fifty thousand euro for damages from the chief editor of the portal, Maria Ferrante, from Gerardo Iandolo, president of COM.IT.ES in Marseille since June 22nd 1996 and from Sebastien Urgu, Member of the General Council of Italians Abroad (C.GI.E.), an organisation representing Italian communities abroad in all institutions that implement policies affecting them.

THE SENTENCE – The first instance trial took place at the Civil Court of Rome and ended on October 27th 2020 with the journalist and the other two accused sentenced to pay the total sum of 20 thousand euro covering both legal costs and compensation for the damage. The judge justified the sentence in relation to the tone of the criticisms expressed by the two individuals in official positions Urgu and Iandolo and by the fact that the italiannetwork portal was mistakenly considered by the judge as a newspaper in the strict sense, without considering its neutral nature as an aggregator portal of public interest news.

In this latter capacity, on January 30th 2017, the portal had conscientiously published the COM.IT.ES communiqué with quotes from institutional representatives who participated to give strength and support, in their own words, to the popular protest of January 17th 2017. The wide participation (about 200 people, i.e., most of the Italians residing in Marseille) showed how widespread the discontent towards the Consul was.

The Italian parliamentarian Gianni Farina was present and had joined the demonstration. In the trial of first instance he, as a witness, acknowledged that, in the course of his long political activity, he had never witnessed such demonstrations of dissent towards an Italian consulate or authority.

Undoubtedly, the COM.IT.ES communiqué contained strong criticism, but these statements certainly could not be attributed to those who, like Maria Ferrante, simply had the duty to report about the positions of that organization. The appeal process will begin in Rome on October 28th 2021.

ASP

(With the collaboration of Oreste Vighi)

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