Why others report many less threats in Italy

The interview released by Ossigeno to be included in the final Mapping Media Freedom’ reports project from 2014-2018 and to be published later this month.

On January 2019, Ryan McChrystal on behalf of Index on Censorship asked Ossigeno to answer four questions on the journalists threatened in Italy from 2014-2018, on the purpose to have comments to be included in the report on the targeting of investigative journalists — from violence and arrests to smear campaigns and threats — across Europe, based on data collected in their Mapping Media Freedom project from 2014-2018. The report was published in the last days and include small extracts of the interview. Here instead we publish the full interview that, inter alia, shows why data collected from Ossigeno and Index on Censorship about Italy differ at a great extent, about from one to ten, like it where images of two different countries.

• In general terms, what are the most worrying trends in violations against investigative journalists you’ve seen in Italy between 2014-18? What does your situation tell you about the situation for investigative journalism?

In these five years in Italy investigative journalism has become increasingly risky, both for journalists in particular and for the media in general. Thousands of investigative journalists have been subjected to threats, assaults and financial damages.  Ossigeno has counted 2084 of them (almost four thousand from 2006), but there are many more. Suffice it to say that every year six thousand journalists face trial for defamation in print based on false and specious accusations and risk ending up in prison. Unfortunately it is very easy for an author to be accused of defamation because his or her article did not please somebody. The accusations of defamation particularly affect many who conduct investigative journalism. Defamation in print is still a crime punishable by 6 years of imprisonment. The law also allows the plaintiff to ask for reimbursements of an unlimited amount without even proving the extent of the damage suffered. The six thousand accused (mostly journalists) are forced to defend themselves before a judge by engaging a defence lawyer at considerable cost even if they are certain of their innocence. Before obtaining a judgement two to six years (at least) can pass and on many occasions the expenses have to be borne by the defendant even if acquitted. The prospect of a prison sentence produces an undeniable chilling effect. Every year there are 155 such sentences for a total of 103 years in prison. The journalists most exposed to these convictions are the chief editors who are held responsible to the judge for every word published. The civil cases for damages are also numerous with over 900 every year. The average value of damages claimed is 50,000 euro. This figure is higher than the average income of 80 per cent of Italian journalists. Some claims for damages exceed one million euro and place the media in serious difficulty. Some newspapers have ceased publication because of these sentences whilst others have renounced investigative journalism. The second most probable risk for investigative journalists is to be subject to court-authorised searches and the seizure of files and work equipment and to be indicted if they protect their trusted sources. All this leads the Italian situation to be defined as by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ / EFJ) as “dramatic”.

• We hear a lot of condemnation of media freedom violations in Italy, but what concrete steps must be taken to ensure investigative journalists can do their jobs freely and safely in Italy? What would these conditions look like?

It is necessary to change some legislation but the political will to do it is lacking. It is also necessary that journalists and publishers join forces to tackle problems together and reduce the most frequent risks

• What rôle do organisations such as Oxygen play in ensuring investigative journalists are free to do their job without fear of reprisal?

With its continuous monitoring Ossigeno keeps the focus on threats and reprisals against journalists. This attention is already in itself a system of protection for reporters. Ossigeno also helps to break the isolation of journalists who are intimidated and threatened and usually remain isolated; those who do not get support from their colleagues or due attention from the authorities or those who do not have enough money to deal with the costs of the trial for defamation.

 – What does the future hold for investigative journalism in Italy with examples such as the government threatening to take away protection for certain investigative journalists?

The future is very uncertain. It is not clear who will still be willing to finance an activity such as investigative journalism which is expensive and involves risks. Certain positions adopted by the government increase concerns. But, fortunately, so far the government has not reduced the protection of threatened journalists. The Minister of the Interior, arguing with Roberto Saviano who had criticized him, said he could reduce Saviano’s police escort but didn’t. The Italian protection system remains the best among all the known systems.

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