OSSIGENO April 13, 2022 – The Ossigeno Free Legal Assistance Office, which works in collaboration with Media Defence, has granted him a cash contribution to partially cover the expenses incurred. Here’s the story told by himself
by Silvio Leoni – I am a journalist. For over thirty years I have mainly dealt with judicial issues and issues related to terrorism and organized crime. These are sensitive areas that require much more attention and caution than in other cases, for many reasons. Not only because there is the risk of being easily sued but also because the very fragile lives of people are being dealt with. And a mistake lies just round the corner. It takes very little. It can happen that you make a mistake even if you pay a lot of attention. It happens. And you have to be honest and fair, even apologizing if you’re wrong.
All this, however, is not always enough despite the fact that the news before being published is examined by colleagues who are responsible for checking it before publication. In Italy suing a journalist is really easy, so easy that, and I say this from experience, it happens more and more often to see lawsuits filed without a real reason but only to intimidate journalists, to silence them, to deliver mafia-like warnings that induce them to take an interest in something else, to turn away, to let go of the bone.
I have received more than one lawsuit in my professional life. Not many but more than enough to persuade me to reread the article over and over again before delivering it, honing it repeatedly where there is the slightest suspicion that it might “wound” someone. And, perhaps, invite the dreaded lawsuit.
But that’s not enough. Suing a journalist has now become virtually a custom regardless of whether you believe you are really right and if the real evidence exists. Perhaps the plaintiff feels miffed by a title or phrase that he perceives as stinging. Or from a photo accompanying the article. Or simply from being in the newspapers. And the inevitable lawsuit starts.
As happened to me in this case. Sticking to the facts, I only recounted – as the duty editor had asked – the judicial affair of the assignment of kiosks in Ostia with the first degree conviction of some people involved following the investigation by the Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office. On the face of it I hadn’t written anything that would induce anyone to sue. I was simply referring to the judgment of the Court of Rome.
And yet shortly afterwards I received the inevitable lawsuit, filed by two of the convicted individuals not only against me but against twelve other colleagues of as many newspapers who had written about the same story.
I knew I was right, so much so that the prosecutor himself asked for the dismissal of the lawsuit and the judge granted it. This, however, did not motivate the publisher to pay the legal fees I had to incur, even though it was clearly stated by the judiciary that my behaviour was professionally correct.
I have known for years the activities of the colleagues of Ossigeno per l’Informazione. And I have often asked myself why they have taken on such a thorny issue as that of the defence of journalists, accused sometimes with the sole purpose of intimidating them, subjecting them to pressure and silencing them with unfounded and abusive court proceedings.
I thank them very much, obviously, for having contributed to my defence in financial terms.
But I thank them above all for making me understand how important, even fundamental, their activity is. Not only for journalists like me who are hired by a newspaper, even if the publisher then turns the other way, but above all for those many freelance colleagues who never know, until a lawsuit arrives, how much their courage, their professionalism, their determination to simply tell the facts, will cost them.
I take this opportunity to thank the lawyer Ippolita Naso who, after my newspaper dumped me, took up my defence and conducted it out masterfully.
I hope that the editor of the newspaper for which I work reflects on the whole affair: after having asked me, twice, to make a reconstruction of the affair, he then ignored the request to bear the costs.
There is still time to demonstrate that the defence of press freedom must also be practiced concretely as well as theoretical.