Seven years of delays before the correctness of a satirical cartoon and an article are recognized.
On January 18th 2019, the Court of Messina fully acquitted the Syracusan journalist Carmelo Maiorca, chief editor of the magazine of information and satire, “L ‘Isola dei Cani” published in Syracusa (Italy) for 34 years.
The journalist, defended by the lawyer Paolo Tuttoilmondo, had been sued for libel by a magistrate for an article and a cartoon published in December 2011. The plaintiff was Maurizio Musco, at the time a prosecutor in the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Syracuse. The cartoon illustrated the article in which the newspaper gave an account of the parliamentary question with which Senator Francesco Ferrante urged the Minister of Justice to order an inspection of the courts of Syracuse and Catania to clarify alleged business ties between some public ministries, lawyers and their relatives.
In those events, which had previously been reported by the weekly “Magma” and by the Syracusan fortnightly “La Civetta di Minerva”, the lawyer Piero Amara had played an important role. The very same professional who is today at the centre of various legal proceedings initiated by several Italian prosecutors and considered to be one of the main protagonists of a network of illicit relationships with magistrates and companies including ENI (the Italian petroleum corporation).
Following those first Sicilian journalistic investigations, the questioning by Senator Ferrante and the requests of Ossigeno in 2012 the Minister Paola Severino ordered the inspection of the prosecutor of Siracusa and on the basis of its findings obtained the transfer of the then chief prosecutor Rossi and his deputy Musco, with subsequent developments in the courts and disciplinary measures by the CSM. In their turn the magistrates Rossi and Musco fought back claiming to be the object of a libellous press campaign and sued the journalists who had conducted the investigation who over time and through various sentences had been vindicated.
Musco claimed he was also defamed by the cartoon published by “L’Isola dei Cani” in which the silhouette of a man with a raised leg, like a dog, urinates on the feet of a giant statue of the blindfolded goddess that depicts Justice, with in one hand the scales and in the other the sword. It was an image chosen by the newspaper in support of the article that reported extensive excerpts from the parliamentary question presented by Senator Ferrante.
According to Dr. Maria Giuseppa Scolaro, the single judge who issued the sentence – that cartoon cannot be considered libellous because “it constitutes the harsh satirical representation of the sense of dismay and disdain (…) the interpretation in a figurative and highly sarcastic image of the serious damage to the prestige of the legal system caused by the entire Syracuse affair “.
The director of Ossigeno, Alberto Spampinato commented that “The acquittal of Carmelo Maiorca – has been achieved , albeit after seven years during which this honest journalist has had to endure not only the pain of those who are called to defend themselves against a groundless accusation ,but also the financial burden of legal defence and numerous trips for hearings and interrogations. Ossigeno, recognizing the correctness of his work, considered it duty bound to contribute to the expenses incurred with a bonus granted by its Legal Aid Office. This trial is emblematic of the depressing Italian situation. There are six thousand journalists sued every year in Italy. Nine out of ten are unjustly accused as happened to Carmelo Maiorca. Although in most cases this is clear from the outset, the defendants have to put up with the same lengthy trial procedure and bear the same expenses, to obtain the satisfaction of seeing it recognized by a judge. It is time for the Italian Parliament to change the laws and procedures that allow this. If there is political will, little is needed to put an end to this treatment that for decades has fuelled the intimidating use of lawsuits and pushes journalists into self-censorship”.
Intense satisfaction for Carmelo Maiorca’s acquittal was expressed by Ossigeno per l’ Informazione, which maintained Carmelo Maiorca’s innocence from the start and contributed to legal fees with a bonus granted by its Legal Aid Office.
Read the statement by the director of Ossigeno