What did they say at the Brussels’ Colloquium

Report and pictures of the meeting of November 6, 2019 at the Press Club promoted by Ossigeno and the following meeting at the European Parliament

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The proposal by “Ossigeno per l’Informazione” to unite non-governmental associations, institutions, trade unions and politicians in a joint effort to advance the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists achieved a general consensus at the “Colloquium” held on Nov. 6that the Brussels Press Club, at which the deputy director of AGI Paolo Borrometi also participated. Ossigeno was represented by its president Alberto Sampinato.

At the outset the spirit of this meeting was underlined by the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli in the message he sent to Ossigeno, wishing a productive meeting. “It is necessary – wrote David Sassoli – to take more incisive actions capable of coordinating the work of institutions, NGOs, trade unions, to create new spaces for debate and discussion that tackle the problem more directly”. He added that, “The European Parliament will be at the forefront by taking supportive actions and not just mere condemnations”.

The discussion was opened by Adeline Hulin (UNESCO), who presented numerous updated statistics on the killing of journalists in the world. The situation has worsened from year to year, said Hulin. In turn, Suzanne Vanderzande, an official of the European Commission (DG Connect), confirmed that the Commission will continue the effort that in recent years has led to the approval of two important directives (copyright and the protection of whistle-blowers). It will also support financially valid projects formulated by non-governmental associations in the field of monitoring and assistance to journalists under attack and also studies and research to establish some indicators of the level of press freedom and media pluralism.

European MEP Brando Benifei (Head of the Italian PD MEPs in the S&D Group at the EP) said, “We need a clearer penal code on how to punish crimes against journalists and the media and we must support quality journalism also on a financial level” although he then stated that it was not clear how to transfer this approach to member states. Nevertheless the European Parliament will work in this direction and will have to find ways to enforce the standards of press freedom in all member countries.

A picture of violence and violations against press freedom in the world was illustrated by the human rights officer of the international journalists’ union (IFJ-EFJ), Ernest Sagaga, who explained how it is committed to defending not only journalists’ working conditions but also journalism as a public good. Initiatives to defend this good and to denounce violations of press freedom have emerged in recent years in many countries, especially in South America, Africa and in the Philippines. Journalism is a public good and more needs to be done to defend it, he said, including putting the respect of the right to information among the clauses envisaged for countries requesting membership of the European Union.

A concrete example of what a union can do also came from VVJ, the union organization of Flemish journalists in Belgium. Charlotte Michjls, VVJ’s legal expert, presented the results of monitoring the most serious press freedom violations in Belgium. Eleven violations have been registered in the last 8 months and were classified according to the nature of the violation. These results were sent to the Council of Europe’s platform for journalists’ security.

Alberto Spampinato, director of Ossigeno, described the meeting as very useful in that it had demonstrated the intent to unite in a broad, transversal way social organizations, institutions, trade unions and their individual members to work together to formulate new ideas and proposals, more concrete than those existing at present. Spampinato insisted that in Western countries, such as Italy and Belgium, “we must first overcome the scepticism that prevents us from adopting measures of unquestionable usefulness. We must use the most powerful weapon to convince: the empirical evidence, i.e., the monitoring of violations conducted in the area where they occur” (see the full text of the intervention).

The testimony of Paolo Borrometi, who recalled his six years of threats and attacks and his life under police guard, conveyed to the participants the dramatic dimension of the problems of journalism which reports unpalatable facts. “I decided to be a journalist as a boy – he said – when I learned about the exemplary story of Giovanni Spampinato who was killed in the area where I grew up and where subsequently I was threatened for my scoops by a Mafia boss who controlled the lucrative agricultural production of Pachino cherry tomatoes. When I was questioned by the magistrates, the people who had threatened me, claiming to be right, complained that I was disrupting a business that was worth millions of euro. I am now going through a phase that saddens me very much because after the threats I am undergoing a campaign of denigration that also involves my family”. “We journalists must really form a network to help each other even beyond national borders”, he added and recalled: “I will never forget the last message Daphne Caruana Galizia sent me stressing the importance both of collaboration on news concerning illegal trafficking involving multiple countries and of mutual support among journalists from neighbouring countries, such as Italy and Malta.

Marino Ficco, a member of the “Basta” Association in Belgium which is part of an anti-Mafia network across several European countries, said that training and education are needed to show how important freedom of information is and how insidious the threat of organized crime is. Ficco explained that, “Basta conducts this activity with voluntary groups and above all with meetings in schools. This is why I support this initiative so that the heart of Europe can take measures against this phenomenon “.

After the Press club colloquium ended, Paolo Borrometi and the representatives of Ossigeno participated in a meeting at the European Parliament on the theme “Fighting organized crime: towards a European solution” promoted by MEP Caterina Chinnici (PD-Italy) member of the Libe commission (civil liberties and human rights). During the meeting the importance of free and independent information in the struggle against organized crime was underlined.
In this regard, the Hon. Chinnici, Paolo Borrometi and others remembered the journalists who were killed in Italy by the Mafia and the value of their civil commitment. MLF

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