Why I counter-sue my plaintiff, tells journalists Leandro Salvia

An Italian story of criminal charges for defamation. Ossigeno helps the reporter acquitted for false allegations

OSSIGENO 27th October 2023 – With the assistance of the Ossigeno Legal Desk (see here), which operates in collaboration with Media Defence, the freelance journalist Leandro Salvia, 47 years old, correspondent of the Giornale di Sicilia from San Cipirello (Palermo) has formally reported for defamation a lawyer who in 2021 asked him for 100,000 euro in damages suing him for libel with the accusation of having written falsehoods about her.

In particular, having written, in an article, that she, a candidate for the office of mayor of the Municipality of San Cipirello (Palermo), was linked to the previous administration. This detail damaged the candidate’s electoral campaign, since in 2018 that administration had been dissolved by a government decree due to mafia infiltration.

This legal action brought by a journalist deserves attention, in various respects.

First of all because it shows that in Italy there are journalists who have to defend themselves in court for years against false accusations, who before their innocence is proven have to endure personal suffering and expenses which in many cases no one reimburses even after their innocence was established by a judgement.

Secondly, this news shows that in cases like this (the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro explains it better in another article), journalists (in addition to defending themselves in order to obtain their acquittal) can actively react against a plaintiff acting in bad faith.

Thirdly, this news highlights that the prosecutor’s offices could have a more vigilant and more active role when faced with evident slander contained in the lawsuits they deal with: they could react by officially proceeding against the complainants every time there appears to be bad faith from the documents, from the investigations , from the conduct of a trial.

This did not happen in the case of Leandro Salvia but it is possible without having to wait for a legislative change. It is possible, it does happen but  rarely, as shown by the number of these legal proceedings..

If the prosecutor systematically investigated the validity of the accusations contained in  the lawsuits  and summonses for defamation, we would have a strong deterrent against the spread of spurious lawsuits for defamation brought by those who contemplate  misusing the legal system for personal ends by initiating vexatious lawsuits with false accusations.

THE BACKGROUND – To understand this development of Leandro Salvia’s complaint, it is necessary to know that the defamation trial against him ended in February 2023 with its dismissal and his full acquittal and that the journalist presented the counter-complaint only some months later.

It is also useful to know that during that trial the public prosecutor ascertained that in the contested articles the journalist had written the truth and had used language justified by the right of criticism. During the trial, the plaintiff herself had confirmed to the prosecutor that “she had actually held the role of consultant to the defence panel of the previous Mayor of San Cipirello, as well as having received, as compensation, the sum of money indicated by the journalist in the article published by him.” (read more details here)

Ossigeno had already expressed solidarity with Leandro Salvia and had commented on the dismissal of the lawsuit against him by asking “What happens if a lawsuit  contains defamation” (read here). Ossigeno  pointed out that in cases like this the public prosecutor and the judge, without further investigation, could and should ask for the indictment of the complainant for the offence of defamation and that if they always acted in this way it would put a stop to the too frequent abuse of the right to sue which does not include the right to make false accusations of an offence against journalists.

Ossigeno  publicly discussed the matter together with Leandro Salvia on October 27th at the Casa del Jazz in Rome during the conference/training course “Who will stop specious litigation” organised in collaboration with the Order of Journalists of Lazio. Journalists participating in the course  obtained 5 ethical credits towards professional development.. A question and answer session was held with the lawyer, Andrea Di Pietro, coordinator of the Ossigeno Legal Desk. ASP

Read also in Italian

Defamation: Lawyer Di Pietro – when you can counter-sue for slander

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