Rule of law. Institutions must not close their eyes when they observe the harsh reality

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The Ossigeno’s opinion: there is extensive and unjustifiable reticence about the high number of violations of the right to information in italy

OSSIGENO 12 NOVEMBRE 2020 – On 10 and 11 November 2020, the journalist Luciana Borsatti represented these considerations together with Alberto Spampinato on behalf of Ossigeno per l’Informazione, during the online seminar (see) organized by the ODIHR, the Office for Democratic Institutions and human rights of the OSCE based in Warsaw.

Ossigeno per l’informazione (Oxygen for Information) is a non-governmental, non-profit association made up of journalists with lengthy experience. The association has been operating since 2010.

Its mission is to defend the right to information as a fundamental human right that belongs to all citizens and forms the basis of press freedom and the work of journalists. The association carries out this task by assisting the victims of serious violations and publishes a detailed list of the victims which currently contains over 4200 names.

In addition Ossigeno maps the causes and the problems to be faced in order to change the present serious situation where in Italy violations are very numerous, constantly increasing, unpunished, and in many cases not even eligible to be punished.

It is unusual to be doing this work in a country where freedom of information is fully affirmed by law and is better defended and implemented than in many other countries where democracy and the rule of law are weak or non-existent. It seems strange and superfluous and we are conscious of this. But the facts that we have documented explain by themselves how useful and necessary this work is of helping the victims of these violations and highlighting several urgent problems to be solved in the interest of freedom and democracy, problems that politicians and institutions deny or do not want to face.

This happens in Italy and also in other free and democratic countries. However, this cannot be said for those countries with such certainty as for Italy because no one in those countries carries out scientific monitoring like that of Ossigeno. Our work, therefore, has a value that goes beyond the borders of Italy.

We appreciate the work of the international institutions and we would like them to do better and to do more.

The right to information permeates all other rights but is still one of the most neglected human rights. It is insufficiently known, insufficiently asserted, and insufficiently defended.

Institutions should promote it more because in these conditions it is difficult to defend what is not acknowledged.

Furthermore, it is difficult to obtain due attention from politicians and institutions even in the face of serious and widely documented situations that require, with absolute urgency, legislative, regulatory and other types of intervention.

It took a conspicuous effort from Ossigeno to cut through the indifference and silence of politicians, institutions and the media and obtain some important commitments which, unfortunately, have not yet been followed up by essential measures and decisions.

We trust that the United Nations will be able to implement among the objectives of their Sustainable Development Plan, Goal 16.10 on the right of access to information and the protection of journalists and we hope that this criterion will become a universal indicator of trustworthiness of each country. But it will still require a long time.

Hence Ossigeno welcomed the first Rule of Law Report on the implementation of the rule of law in the European Union approved  recently by the European Commission, as part of the new annual European Rule of Law Mechanism.  It most clearly indicates the right to information as a relevant criterion for assessing a country.

This report maps for the first time the implementation of the rule of law in the 27 European countries and this map has already become a condition for the disbursement of European funds to individual member countries.

However, at the same time, we note that with regard to Italy in this report there is extensive and unjustifiable reticence about the violations of the right to information.

The number of violations ascertained and documented by Ossigeno and the Italian Ministry of the Interior is not taken into account. For Italy, the report has cited  monitoring centres that report far fewer violations than those methodically ascertained by Ossigeno. We hope that this reticence will be shelved.

To be credible, institutions must not close their eyes when they observe the harsh reality.

We also very much appreciate this report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) which on its 2018 visit to Italy consulted also Ossigeno.

We are grateful to you for citing numerous documents from Ossigeno. We share the Recommendations that are in this report, in particular the last one, (Recommendation f) regarding defamation.

In Italy, the exploitive use of defamation is widespread. False libel charges are the most trenchant and the most widely used instrument of intimidation and retaliation. This exploitation makes the justice system work in reverse and severely limits press freedom and the right to information.

It is widely known that this has been happening in Italy for seventy years and is permitted by current legislation and judicial procedures, which therefore require fundamental modifications, clearly indicated for some time. Unfortunately, however, the draft legislation that the Italian Parliament is discussing in these days proposes changes that do not go in the direction desired by the spirit of your recommendations. They go in the opposite direction and it is worrying that they are supported by all political forces represented in the Italian Parliament.

If Parliament approves these changes, press freedom, freedom of information, and the activity of human rights defenders will be severely restricted.

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