Mario Ciancio, the newspapers, the Mafia and the pure publisher

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The judicial seizure of newspapers and tv stations owned by him is an unprecedented event that raises above all a problem of employment but also of publishing formula. In Sicily and in Puglia the journalists and the other employees of the editorial group of Mario Ciancio Sanfilippo – newspapers, TV, print works, advertising agencies seized by the magistracy on Monday 24th September 2018 – (read the details here) immediately mobilised to defend their jobs.

The Italian national press federation (FNSI) and the other unions dutifully lined up alongside the workers highlighting the real risk that when complex and delicate businesses, such as newspapers, are entrusted to judicial administrators, they can fail. All the businesses seized because they are considered the fruit of illicit proceeds from Mafia activity, run this risk and the risk is all the more serious if they are already in crisis. The newspapers of Ciancio are affected, just as all the others, by a drastic fall in sales and in advertising income, a major problem which affects all newspapers. Moreover the prosecutor of Catania who ordered the seizure has said that the situation of the daily La Sicilia the most important of the newspapers impounded “is very serious”.

There is, therefore, no doubt that the first emergency is that of saving the businesses and the jobs and it is good that this objective is fully receiving the attention of the trade unions and the publishing worlds.

But it is clear that the Ciancio case does not end there. The seizure of publishing assets with a value of 150 million euro and a publisher charged in court of having been for years in an exchange of favours with organised crime, accused of having exchanged favours with Mafia figures in return for advantages, accused of having bent the editorial line of his newspapers in the interests of the Mafia, that is having done for decades what several journalists have accused him of, opens also further avenues for reflection.

The list above are accusations, they are not sentences. They are accusations and we will regard them as such up until the definitive sentencing. But this concerns only the criminal responsibility of the accused.

To reflect on what should be done on the publishing level, to have clean businesses and complete, impartial and independent information regarding centres of political, economic or criminal power, the framework of these accusations is sufficiently stimulating.

It raises again the old and unresolved problem of the nature of the publishing business, of the social ends which it should pursue, and of the guarantees of its independence.

Because information is a very special product, it is of public interest and cannot be produced with complete independence following the logic of the market. It is not enough to have good, courageous, competent journalists of which we have many. If we want to avoid that complete and impartial information is produced in order to favour someone and to damage another, as often happens, it necessitates a special context for producing it.

Hence in Italy we have long dreamt, for decades, of entrusting our newspapers to a mythical “pure” editor (that is an entrepreneur involved only in the publishing sector).

Many continue to dream of this pure editor. In other countries (above all in the United States) they have experimented at length with this solution and they know, through having observed it, that it does not give a guarantee of independence or of quality of information and therefore for some time the non-profit publisher model is being tried.

It is now time to try it also in Italy after the unprecedented judicial seizure of a daily newspaper, the majority shareholding in another daily, two regional TV stations, a print works which prints numerous newspapers and an advertising agency; all taken away from an owner accused of association with the Mafia. A not insignificant detail, inter alia, is that Mario Ciancio is a journalist and has been for decades the chief editor of La Sicilia (resigning on the day before the seizure). And here further considerations, not of minor importance, are required.


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