The mis-adventure of a sued journalist who believed he was protected by his publisher

OSSIGENO – March 2nd 2021 – The Free Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno (read more here), which works in collaboration with Media Defence, has made a cash contribution to the journalist Fabio Di Chio, to cover the legal defence costs he incurred.

Here Fabio Di Chio reconstructs his story so that other colleagues can learn from it

I was made redundant because my publisher did not honour the indemnity agreement under which he had guaranteed that he would pay any compensation if I was convicted of defamation. It sounds unbelievable but it really happened.

In this story there is an element of the absurd that I want to recount with the hope that it will be useful to others who may find themselves in the same situation as I did. I will endeavour to summarize the story.

I neither received nor learned that a letter had arrived in the editorial office threatening a lawsuit and requesting damages if one of my articles was not deleted from the newspaper’s website. When the individual filed the civil damage lawsuit (with a summons) I was no longer an employee of the newspaper.

When I learned that I had been sued, I thought that in any case I would not personally pay any compensation decided by the judge who would have made the publisher pay it, because as an employee I had an indemnity signed by the then managing director of the newspaper and undersigned by the Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEG) who gave a seal of quality to the agreement. I was mistaken. It seems that if one retires before the sentence, the indemnity no longer applies. I did not know that.

And so when I was sentenced in the first instance, the Civil Court froze my bank account and my bank card and dismissed my appeal against the sentence. Basically I was left with 20 euro in my pocket. From defeat to collapse. A short time later there was a judgment of the judiciary in my favour. I was sued for the same article but the Criminal Court acquitted me (at the request of the prosecutor) of the alleged defamation of which the aforementioned individual had accused me.

And now? The end of the story is yet to be written.

What is there to say? My dear colleagues, be careful. Justice is fallible, money is required to defend oneself in court, and a precarious, unemployed or retired journalist may not have it. Fortunately, in my case, the team of Ossigeno per l’informazione, commandos” in defence of journalist victims of injustice and close to oblivion have put their hands in their pockets, the only organization to have offered and granted me a cash contribution to support legal expenses. Others have not done so. Thanks again to Ossigeno.

The indemnity did not guarantee protection. Fieg’s counter-signature was simply ink: the judges did not consider it to be a guarantor. The publishing company didn’t throw any lifelines to me.

I also want to warn the employee journalists. Do you think that ownership of the newspaper always protects its editors? It is not the case. Perhaps rich publishers do. It used to be the standard practice. Today the rule is that the columnist has to do it alone and whoever breaks something pays. Another thing I learned: the written protection of your newspaper can be worth nothing if it is not covered by a surety. A final consideration: we journalists are good at articulating the facts of others but unable to articulate our own. Don’t blindly trust whoever pays your salary though I know that saying it has almost the flavour of treason. I almost forgot to say: I was an employee of the newspaper Il Tempo.

Fabio Di Chio

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