What most suitable new tools to stop intimidation against media operators were proposed, on November 3,during the meeting organized by Ossigeno. and UNESCO
OSSIGENO 24 Novembre 2021 – From the UNESCO website – When the Attorney General at the Italian Supreme Court, Giovanni Salvi, opened the high-level roundtable discussion to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI), a large frame, the “panel of memory”, showed the pictures of 30 Italian journalists who were killed in Italy since 1960, most of them by organized crimes. Mr Salvi said that this frame was always in his office to remind him of the heavy price journalists have to pay to inform the society and shed light on the activities of organized crime in Italy. Mr Salvi highlighted the commitment of the Italian authorities to keep protecting freedom of expression, and reminded the audience that still today 24 journalists were living under 24-hours police protection in Italy.
The roundtable was held on 3 November 2021 at the Siracusa International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, in the city of Syracuse, Italy, which is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and honoured as the City for Peace and Justice.
Organized by Ossigeno per l’informazione, and held in a hybrid format with both in-person and online participation, the roundtable provided a platform for dialogue among prosecutors, lawyers, journalists and representatives of civil society on prevention and protection measures to address the safety of journalists. It also highlighted the instrumental role of prosecutorial services in investigating and prosecuting not only killings, but also threats of violence against journalists.
In his opening remarks, Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information particularly stated:
“We need judicial action to end impunity not only for killings, but also for all other crimes against journalists – including on- and offline threats. Because if we don’t address the threats, we risk being too late when we try to address the ultimate attack. “
The roundtable discussion was structured in two sessions, and was constituted by journalists and prosecutors from Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Malta, as well as from representatives from UNESCO and from the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP). The event was moderated by Alberto Spampinato, President of Ossigeno per l’Informazione.
In the first session, panellists discussed the lack of intermediaries to assist journalists when they are faced with threats, and recognized the multiplicity of attacks against journalists which may happen both online and offline, including in the context of public demonstrations. The impact of libel crimes and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) was also discussed as an additional tool to silence journalists, who are often forced to pay for their own defence. As a result, there is both a need to prosecute threats and attacks against journalists on the one hand, while protecting freedom of expression and press freedom as a value for democracy and the rule of law on the other.
The second session focused on the particular threats faced by local and freelance journalists, who are often targeted for covering issues related to corruption, trafficking and political wrongdoings. Two journalists shared their experience in this regard, including Michele Albanese, an Italian journalist from Calabria living under 24-hours protection due to threats received by organized crime since 2014, that stated:
“I just tried to carry out my job. For telling the true story, now I have been under police protection for seven years and a half. I consider myself a free man despite all the threats, thanks to the intervention of the State and thanks to these police agents who are accompanying me in all my movements.”
The session also discussed the borderless nature of certain attacks against journalists, and reaffirmed the need for greater cooperation between various stakeholders, including national authorities, prosecutorial services, law enforcement and the media, to ensure a safer environment for media workers.
Judges and prosecutors have a crucial role to play in this regard, by bringing perpetrators of attacks against journalists to justice, while ensuring every citizen’s right to freedom of expression and access to information. To that effect, the discussion was notably informed by the Guidelines for prosecutors on cases of crimes against journalists (available in 17 languages), jointly published by UNESCO and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), which detail specific elements to consider in the decision-making process when an alleged crime is committed against a journalist.
In addition, the event also served as an opportunity to announce the development of a comprehensive training course for prosecutors, to provide them with practical and operational tools for investigating and prosecuting crimes against journalists and related issues. The training will be organized next year in Syracuse, Italy, in cooperation with UNESCO, the IAP and the Siracusa International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights.
In the framework of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, UNESCO and its partners have also organized around 33 events in 25 different countries, notably a high-level webinar at the UN HQ in New York discussing hate-speech and the safety of women journalists, which included the participation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Director-General of UNESCO.
In addition, a global awareness-raising campaign was launched by UNESCO on the occasion of the IDEI, aiming to sensitize the public on the impacts that threats have on journalists’ daily lives and work. The campaign highlighted the psychological trauma experienced by journalists who are victims of threats, and raised awareness on the importance to investigate and prosecute these threats, before they turn to action.