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Italy: Journalists face fresh violence covering ‘green pass’ protests

Italy: Journalists face fresh violence covering ‘green pass’ protests

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned about yet another series of violent attacks and threats to journalists and media workers covering protests against the government’s pandemic-related measures across Italy.

Several incidents of hostility and violence towards media were reported in Rome on 9 October, when journalists and photojournalists were attacked while reporting on a protest by anti-vaccine and far-right groups against government measures to require all workers to carry the EU Digital COVID Certificate.

Photojournalist Francesco Cocco, a contributor to daily newspaper Il Foglio, said he was deliberately kicked in the groin and injured by a uniformed police officer while documenting the street protest near via Largo Chigi in the capital. Video footage captures Cocco being hit off-camera and dropping to the floor, almost dropping the equipment.

That same afternoon, Flavia Amabile, a journalist with daily newspaper La Stampa, was hit with batons by police while covering the protest near the Piazza del Popolo. First, a police officer in riot gear hit her and another photojournalist with a truncheon despite being made aware they were journalists. In a second incident, Amabile was amidst a group of protesters filming on her mobile phone when the police moved forward and began hitting people violently with truncheons.

On the same day, la Repubblica photojournalist Alessandro Serranò was also attacked with a shovel by a protester who had broken into a construction site and armed himself. Video footage shows Serranò holding a makeshift shield as a man violently swings the shovel at him. He was taken to the emergency room with minor injuries. Journalist Sara Giudice and colleagues from La7 Piazzapulita were also attacked by protesters. Police confirmed that a 52-year-old man was charged with causing aggravated injuries. A trial hearing is set for 10 December.

Two days later, on 11 October, a crew from the public broadcaster Tgr Rai in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia was threatened and had their equipment damaged as they were covering anti-green-pass protests near the port in Trieste. Journalist Alessandra Zigaina had a microphone snatched out of her hand and thrown away into the crowd. A camera was also ripped out of the operator’s hand and dropped. The crew were also pushed and insulted. During the protest march, the demonstrators stopped outside the Rai headquarters to chant anti-media slogans and shout insults.

Our organisations join Italian journalists’ rights groups in strongly condemning all these incidents of violence against the media. Concerningly, these kinds of attacks have underscored the consistent threats that journalists in Italy face while reporting on anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine pass protests. During the pandemic, MFRR monitoring organisations have documented dozens of attacks and threats against journalists and media workers by protesters in various parts of the country, both during protests and against journalists investigating or reporting on anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory groups. Abuse of journalists covering demonstrations is becoming the norm rather than an anomaly.

We call on the Italian government to urgently take action to improve the safety of journalists covering protests. There is clearly a need for improving the public’s media literacy, so they better understand the press’ role, while also duly investigating and prosecuting acts of violence and harassment. Furthermore, any acts of police brutality must be swiftly and adequately investigated through an appropriate disciplinary process. This must be paired with improved capacity-building among law enforcement personnel in coordination with representatives of the journalistic profession to generate a better understanding of journalists’ and media workers’ protection needs during demonstrations.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
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Italy: Defamation law must be reformed

Italy: Defamation law must be reformed

A year after the Constitutional Court ruled on the unconstitutionality of prison sentences in cases of defamation through the press, on 22 June 2021 the Court issued a follow-up decision declaring art. 13 of Law 47/1948 (Press Law) not compliant with the Constitution. The Court has however declared art. 595(3) of the Penal Code, which provides for a sentence between one and six years of prison or the payment of a fine, compliant with the Constitution, but applicable only in cases of “exceptional severity”.

In June 2020, the Constitutional Court invited the Italian Parliament to remove specific provisions declared unconstitutional and promote a wider reform of the defamation framework. However, the Parliament did not meet the deadline set by the Court and failed to legislate on this matter, returning the decision to the judiciary. In its decision on 22 June 2021, in light of the lack of such initiative, the Court renewed its call on Parliament urging the promotion of a reform that could adequately balance the “freedom of expressing one’s own thought and (the) protection of individual reputation”. The lack of parliamentary initiative in pushing for comprehensive reform of the defamation framework in Italy is a long-standing issue that contributes to the erosion of a free and independent press and an increase in SLAPPs against journalists.

Data from Istat (Italian National Statistics Institute) shows that, in 2017 alone, a total of 9,479 proceedings for defamation were initiated against journalists, of which 60% were dismissed after preliminary investigation and 6.6% went to trial. Plaintiffs are often public figures – politicians, businessmen, or individuals involved in organized crime – who start legal proceedings against journalists with an aim to silence them and bury articles that often contain information on  corruption, tax evasion, or mafia collusion.

A reform of defamation laws is urgently needed to stop SLAPPs against journalists, which often lead to self-censorship and discourage newspapers and editors from publishing sensitive or controversial information for fear of incurring lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. The European Commission – aware of the need to counter this phenomenon within the EU – committed itself to promoting measures to counter SLAPPs within the EU block, following a request of an Anti-SLAPPs Coalition composed of 60 organizations in Europe, including the members of the Media Freedom Rapid Response. The European Parliament also recently took action against SLAPPs by promoting an “own-initiative report (INI)”, to be discussed on 28 June 2021, with an aim to push the Commission to adopt legislative measures to address SLAPPs.

The undersigned organisations urge the Italian Parliament to begin comprehensive reform of defamation laws in line with international freedom of expression standards as soon as possible. Such reform should center on the decriminalisation of defamation and set limits within civil law on the amount in damages that can be sought to avoid creating undue obstacles to the journalistic profession. Furthermore, this reform should address specific challenges posed by SLAPPs against journalists within the Italian framework. While the Italian Civil Code includes some provisions aimed at countering SLAPPs – art. 96 provides that those plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in “bad faith” must compensate the defendant – judges rarely recur to this provision in practice.

We call on the Italian Parliament to prioritise the reform of both criminal and civil defamation laws, drive discussions that will lead to the identification of measures that address Italian issue areas, and establish a framework that will protect journalists from indiscriminate use of the law to silence or discredit.

Cases of criminal defamation and civil lawsuits, such as SLAPPs, can be reported to mappingmediafreedom.org. The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) also provides financial legal support for journalists, media workers, and media outlets. For further information on legal aid, please visit https://www.mfrr.eu/support/legal-support or contact Flutura Kusari on kusari@ecpmf.eu.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI)
  • Sindacato Unitario Giornalisti Campania (SUGC)
  • Articolo 21
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)

This statement was first published by Article 19 on 23 June 2021